Tuesday, December 28, 2010

May the bridges I burn light the way

 The arrival into Toronto was a breath of figurative fresh air. Skyscrapers, the busyness of a metropolis, subways and escalators are all things lacking in Amherst, and despite leaving Wollongong to see more of the world, part of me is still disappointed that I didn't choose a bigger city. With the attraction of bright lights, I don't foresee myself staying in Wollongong much longer, but at 24, I hoped I'd be there by now.

Michael and I joined Lydia in going one way, while John got lost on his opposing journey. Despite my intentions of moving to a big city, riding the packed underground trains with a backpack reminded me that there is bad with the good. On the advice of a lady with a hilarious Canadian accent, I exited in reverse at some stops, only to hop back on and regain my place in the sardine can.

With our bags dumped at Lyd's house adjacent to Bonar Place, like every white suburbanite, we opted for dinner at the Asian restaurant that was predominately propagated by Asians. Over the last few weeks I'd limited my meat consumption, not for ethical or health reasons, but for a sense of self-determination. It was with that same lack of ethical conviction or self-determination that I was able to break the embargo. There were no other options on the menu, and when it's minus whatever outside, it's incredibly discourteous to make your colleagues find another place for cheap chow.

Being in Toronto, it was fantastic to start on the Scott Pilgrim-mage so early into the visit. Dufferin Mall was the highlight of Xmas Eve festivities for Michael and I. Frozen pizza, cheap beer, tins of soup and North American cereal characterised our extravagance. Once Lyd left, we had the house to ourselves with ample supplies and weather that turns a socialite into a hermit.
Lucas Lean

We spent xmas eve skyping home to our families, who due to rules about time and space, were enjoying their sun soaked xmas morning. I'd previously spent another xmas on the other side of the world, and with no disrespect to my family and friends, it was one of the most fun I'd had. Forty or so travellers all convened in the dining room of the Edinburgh Globetrotter's Inn, shared gifts, turkey and got properly lubricated. This was different though, seeing my family at the other end of the webcam while only Michael and I occupied an inner-city Toronto house was much lonelier than Scotland, even if it was whiter.

Our xmas started late, with a requisite sleep-in for the first December 25 in my memory. There was tea with cereal, but shortly after a beer can was cracked and we preceded to watch 'Elf'. Our day of watching xmas films was interrupted by the cricket back in Australia. The Australian performance was hardly enhancing the festive mood, and before too long we gave up on the game for The Muppets Christmas Carol.

The need to resume the cricket vanished, we pushed on with the beers. I didn't receive any gifts over here, but for the first time in months I managed to get in some phone time with my favourite driving instructer, Amy. Though the internet had presented intermittent opportunities to communicate, the phone call was infinitely more lovely, and a better way to end a quiet xmas.

Boxing day was a more social affair, and with Lyd returning and another of her friends, Natalie, joining, we went to Sneaky Dees - another Scott Pilgrim haunt - for an exhaustingly massive meal. Natalie's car was fantastically 1980s American. It was bigger than a Sydney to Hobart yacht, wood panelled, velour lined and sans seat belt. It was a vagrant's dream, but a mechanical inspector's nightmare.

Despite living in America for a few months, I struggled to finish my $7.50 wrap while the latest Arcade Fire album played in the background. After dinner Michael and I were summonsed to Queen st for a night with John St John. The walk was one of the coldest moments of my life, not helped by us getting lost, but eventually we met up and headed for Drake.

As we were entering the bar a girl was outside convincing a bouncer not to remove her friend. She didn't win the case, but consoled herself by making out with some guy in the foyer of the club. The place was getting busy, and when we were offered a table by a leaving couple we took it. John's friend, Dimi, immediately took a full bottle of vodka from the neighbouring table as soon as the occupants left, but the security was swift in their reunitement of potato juice and original table. We were promptly removed from our table for a reservation shortly after.

As the night wore on more and more people were shamelessly making out. Two guys who resembled members of the Mossad danced over-enthusiastically while a waitress dropped a whole tray of empty glasses. The first time out of many for the night. After a few hours, simultaneously Michael, Dimi and myself headed straight for the club's exit. John was more hesitant, but outnumbered.

While the walk to the club was the then coldest moment of my life, the return leg was even worse. I wore a beanie over my face, feeling the cold hurt more than any injury caused by blindness. Though I didn't stick around to confirm, I assume the by-product of my pit stop quickly turned to a cousin of the famed yellow snow Frank Zappa wrote of.

We'd arranged to meet John at Toronto Castle, or as it is correctly know, Casa Lomo. We were late, beyond the point of knowing exactly how late because the units seem insignificant. The castle is more Scott Pilgrim scenery, along with the Baldwin Steps, the site of Scott's triumph over Lucas Lee.

It was cold, and like a high class prostitute, way too expensive to see from the inside. To escape from the cold we went to Toronto's Time Square, Dundas Square. It's as ugly as it's New York brethren, though less congested. Batman  was out the front 'performing' for confused pedestrians. We bypassed the caped crusader, opting for a film instead. If anything, it was a prolonging of time with John, as at the end he and Michael had to say their good-byes.
The worst Batman since Clooney

It's been an epic tale of epic good-byes, and I was lucky to avoid another one by arranging to see John in New York City. I had hoped that after last week I had gotten over them for a few months, but it's short-lived. While I'll be seeing old friends from Edinburgh over the next few days, my return for new years eve is more than just a farewell to 2010, I'll be seeing off Lydia and Michael as well.

It's temporary - we'll see each other again in Wollongong - but my safety net over here is about to get dramatically smaller.

Tokyo Police Club - Breakneck Speed
My new favourite band from Toronto. Very excited about seeing them in NYC

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Viagra Moles

It finally happened. After many goodbyes and one false start I finally left Amherst. There were handshakes and hugs at the bus stop as Alex, Sam and Lee-Roy all headed home for xmas. When forced to be on your own it is better to embrace the independence than dwell on the loneliness so I chose to head inland and up. Michael had said something poignant the other day when he was leaving Amherst for good, "the same rural things that were getting me down when we first arrived are getting me down as I leave", and as my bus took me past these same places for the first time since August I knew exactly what he meant. I had an outstanding time this semester, and even if Amherst is an odd little town in Western Massachusetts, the beauty and feel of the surrounding areas are unique as they are lovely. I was one of the last to leave Amherst, and even though I hadn't finished all my work last week and got sick, I'd become quite smitten with the place and the comfort borne from this made it easy to stay those extra days.

making thermals sexy

Either that, or I was dreading 12 hours on a Greyhound. Needless to say, the experience lived up to its reputation. For all the lovely things I saw, like the ice stalactite-esque formations on the walls of the highway , I was greeted by the bizarre - a hedge that spelt out  the word ‘pray’, and the awful - a young man making his grandmother carry her own bags in Lennox.

I also learned a few things on the bus trip. The fingers on my left hand look like I now suffer from mild-vitiligo having not been able to regularly wash them for nearly 4 weeks. Albany's Greyhound station smells like poo, even with a blocked nose, though this is due to all the homeless people taking refuge in there. It has snowed everywhere but Amherst lately. Left and Leaving by The Weakerthans is outstanding for bus trips and that you can feed yourself two bottles of soda and 3 packets of crisps all day and feel fine.
giant green lady

Not quite Trafalgar Square

Buffalo Skyline

Border Patrol briefly inspected the bus, though it had never left the country. I wonder what would have happened had I not brought my passport, I was travelling within the country, and though I am here legally; my Australian identification would hardly be sufficient to them. Anyway, my viewing of Planes, Trains and Automobiles ended just before Buffalo. I am a little ashamed having never seen it before, but given the adventures of my friends trying to return to the United Kingdom, I have developed a trifle more empathy for them.

Once in Buffalo I was greeted by another homeless man, this time his pants had fallen down to reveal his shit-stained underwear. No matter how many times I see things like this in America, it still seems incredibly sad and strange. A few blocks from this vagrant hangout is one of the most beautiful buildings in the country. It's the perfect example of this country's bi-polar existence.

I managed my self check-in at the near empty hostel but sleep was punctuated with the permanent blaring of xmas carols from the shop across main st. My cousin had stayed in the exact same hostel two weeks ago, and upon hearing the opening of silent night I felt the empathy pour out for him.
Not wanting to waste my time in Buffalo, I woke up early and braved the cold on an early morning walk of the city. Immediately I was struck by the city’s architecture. From the theatres to the banks, the area has a high concentration of amazing structures. The liberty building has two replicas of the Statue of Liberty on the top, mixing the kitsche with authority, but the predictable highlight is the City Hall. I’d seen it in my books on skyscrapers and architecture tours of the internet, but I’m yet to find a photo that does it justice. The antique air conditioners placed in random intervals do not detract from the native American patterns that are intertwined with an art deco design. It’s old, it’s brown and it’s in Buffalo, but it could well be one of the best buildings in the country.

My wrist is still broken, so all my photos are wonky.

Equipped with my backpack and boots, I began my three hour trek to meet John and Michael. Neither the weight of the bag or the snow in my face had an effect on my walk back to the Greyhound station. If anything, it’s a cathartic experience and a reminder that backpacking isn’t meant to be easy, though it is brilliant fun.

Give the shortness of my stay in Buffalo, I took the public bus to Niagra Falls so I’d squeeze in a bit more of city. The houses looked just like the ones that made me love Montreal and just before the view went from Jekyll to Hyde, Buffalo randomly threw in a monolithic castle like structure. Like the perfect one night stand, my time in Buffalo was short-lived but left an outstanding impression.

Even though everyone was still wearing coats, scarves and hats I left the cosiness of the bus for a snow trudge towards Canada. Along the way a lady stopped her car to inform me that my wrapped up appearance reminded her of winter and that it brought a smile to her face. It was sweet, and clearly my Australian skin hasn’t adjusted to the weather, but I thought a snow covered city would have been enough of a reminder of winter.
Is that it?

Like Blackpool, but with a water feature - Max


I entered an international limbo by crossing the bridge into Canada but stopped to capture the falls. My immediate thoughts were, “is this it?” as my view was blanketed by mist and frost. I couldn’t fathom that two cities were built around these. But as I walked closer and closer to the main part of the falls I began to take more of it in. The length of the walk was an indicator of the grandeur that came with nature’s leaking tap.

Not once did the backpack or the cold feel like a burden on the 90 minute walk and I never skipped a vantage point in favour of comfort. The falls were like a hockey player, with the punishing brutality pushing the water off the edge, but the finesse to let parts of it freeze in elegant icicles in a near impossible proximity.


Jim & Pam

The boats were closed for the season, but my initial impression was defied. I left the falls sufficiently impressed. It’s the ideal start to my trip, I’m exhausted, but I’m seeing and doing new things, the one’s I had read and seen so much about from the other side of the world. Next stop is Toronto, though at a calmer pace than the last 24 hours. The bus is taking us past the water, where a rusted out ship lays stuck in a frozen section of a harbour. The Toronto skyline is visible in the distance, separated by water that is cooler than the average Canadian, of which Neil Young is one. I already love it here.

 Neva Dinova - Spring Cleaning
The Bright Eyes/Neva Dinova splits is one of my favourites, it's another perfect long-haul bus trip record. Here's Neva playing one of the bests sons Conor has written

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Amherst

I was packed, I had semi-tidied and I was wearing my new boots as I prepared to begin life on a bus again. I had said my good-byes to Lee-Roy - a man who has been instrumental in making this semester an amazing experience - as he was helping me put my bags on the bus. I was ready for my 10 hour trip to Buffalo, NY when the driver told me I was either too late or too early for the bus.

What? For some unknown reason my nose began to bleed as I was told the bad news.

The driver talked me through the complications and explained that the schedule I received from the Amherst Books is incorrect. Now I have to wait a day in Amherst and miss a day with Michael and John in Niagra Falls. It was disappointment squared.

While it's the first travel hiccup I've had in my 1.5 years spent travelling, spending one more night in Amherst is not a bad thing. I still have excellent company, a chance of peace and quiet and a familiar bed. It could be worse, friends are still left at airports waiting to go home. While they're left in limbo I'll get to rest my head in my adopted bed tonight. It's not bad, but it's neither home, nor the road.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to deal with a winter in New England.

Does not include everything :(

Friday, December 17, 2010

Breakdown into resolve

It started snowing just before Michael and I left for Northampton. Once we arrived, the combination of the soft falling snow and Northampton’s lights were creating the ideal festive environment for Jesse Malin’s xmas show. If it wasn’t for the cold – a necessary evil of snow – I could have spent the rest of the night just wandering around the streets.

Alas, we didn't. Instead, a quick detour through Urban Outfitters interrupted the sojourn to the Iron Horse. My exam exacerbated exhaustion (+man flu) meant the opening bands were more of a hindrance than highlight, even if they played the Rocky theme song. Some crazy cougars (older than the sun, sparkly shit and leopard print) were out on the prowl, and some marines appeared to jump on those grenades

Jesse came on stage late, meaning I was going to miss the last bus back (terrible news when you feel shitty). None of it mattered when both he and his backing band, The St Mark's Social, started playing 'Burning The Bowery'.

Jesse told his story of tracking down J.D. Salinger before playing 'The Archer' and constantly stopped his set for some worthwhile banter. His band introductions noted that his guitar player had a stint with Danzig and this his Johnny Marr-doppleganger bass player is called Johnny Martin. Mind blow.

We were getting ready to leave to see John St John dj at Bishop's but our exits were thwarted by the extension of a great set. First Jesse was walking around the crowd, followed by some crazy punk tunes and finally his encore.

The setlist was great, and though we left early, both Michael and I were surprised at how good the show was. Even more snowing was pouring at this stage as we braved slipping over and after hearing John call out from a balcony, made it to Bishops.
My favourite picture of the semester. Sam's impending beer spill.

It was just in time for the start of his set, but the room was already full of interesting characters. An overly energetic lesbian was owning the dancefloor (by default, she scared the other punters) while bearded lumberjack types filtered through the door. A lady who looked like Borat's prostitute eventually took to the floor and entered a dance off with the energetic one.

Last time I saw John play I was treated to the gaffes at the end of the night. The same gremlins that caused those were initially visiting him again, but once he got things in order the set went great. He even expertly mixed The Pet Shop Boys' West End Girls with Flight of the Conchords' Inner City Pressure. Genius.

The crowd at Bishop's was certainly a unique bunch, highlighted by one escaped mental patient. A large-scale Rick Moranis clone stood, slightly wobbling to each song. He had all the enthusiasm of someone who had left a lobotomy half way through. Not to be outdone, a home-boy rocked up with a backwards baseball cap and his own headphones.

Tani and Renita, John's German groupies boogied their way through 99 Luftballons before the ugly lights came on and we all headed for the ausgang. It took over 30 minutes in the freezing *literally* cold before a Taxi picked us up.

The nights since have been a prolonged goodbye. Tuesday at Stackers was fantastic, even if the version of Wonderwall Max and I belted out didn't win the competition. The numbers of our group have dropped like the snow. One minute you'll be sharing a beer with someone, the next they're on a plane heading in the opposite direction. I'm fortunate that I'm here for more than one semester, as saying goodbye to everyone all at once would leave me feeling worse than this man flu.

The goodbyes at the bus stop on Thursday felt temporary, Ollie, Max and Jen will be back and I'll see Essex misfits in the warmth of Australia's winter. However, if these were temporary the stupidity of Peach, Sam and I is a trifle more permanent. For an hour we were bemused by a frozen pond, throwing whatever we could find onto the surface and playing chicken with the cracks.

This stupidity extended into the night, as we all went back to Stackers to see off John and Mike. Evan's entry was another xmas miracle, as he used Michael's passport with a $10 note inside. Again, it didn't take him long to get over-excited, but that's what we were all there for. Everyone returned to the dorms, and it wasn't long until the police were called for noise complaints (despite being in a basement). We were all there for fun, and some tears were flowing, it's just a shame that some people have a black and white outlook on rules.
Soviet Massachusetts

So now I'm still to finish all my work for the semester. Being sick hasn't helped, but neither has going out every night helped that.It's also affected how I planned on going away. I usually have few inhibitions about running away, but spending precious time with people and not being able to speak properly has forced a shift of plans. However, I do have my bus tickets sorted and from Tuesday at 1PM, I'll again be armed with a backpack and notepad. First stop Buffalo, NY, ending in New York City a few weeks after.

PS, if anyone is in Toronto for xmas or new years let me know.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Stop Playing With My Heart
Xmas arrived on Wednesday when I received my copy of III/IV on vinyl/download. It's so amazing. I just need a record player to finally hear how it is meant to sound.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A brief history of time in Amherst

It’s terrible to generalise a whole population, but Americans don’t seem to have a massive passion for live music. Even in the Amherst area, with 5 colleges and a huge young population, the number of patrons at shows is a little disappointing. Maybe it’s an Australian thing, where bands have to exert a huge effort making it to the island, but live music is held in a higher esteem.

Accordingly, it has taken this long for me to go see a band sans international students. Jessie - who happened to study in Wollongong at one stag - and her friend Paul and I made the trip to Northampton’s Pearl Street Clubroom. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists were playing with Bear Hands, a band who looked barely old enough to be in the venue.

Despite their years, they'd mastered their craft, switching between instruments and covering broken strings quite well. I was impressed enough to download their music, though not upset when their set finished. Up next was Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, who by roadying for themselves, care more for playing than the other rock and roll bull-corn.

Watching Ted Leo setting up and finally playing, it becomes obvious that he was put on this big, blue rock to play fast, catchy tunes. He is old in punk years and resembles an older Englishman I knew from my days in Edinburgh, but when the guitar is nestled in his hands, the years seem irrelevant.

The typical hipster dancing was taking place; all enthusiasm, no rhythm. The show was the loudest I have been to for a long time, but that can probably be blamed on his age. There was even a clich├ęd encore, but who cares, the show was fantastic. He deserved a bigger crowd, but the ones that made it were treated to something great, for me, it's nice that he is one of the best kept secrets in music.

Despite the plummeting temperature, there was no need to end the night there. John - or John St John as he is known in the land of beats, vinyl, turntables and disco biscuits - was playing a set at the North-East's premier lesbian hotspot, Divas. It was a shame to miss his set, but things in the deserted nightclub were getting interesting.

Not long after we entered the ambulance service followed, wheelchairing out a friend who had too much fun. Dicky Peach and Sam were dancing and spilling drinks everywhere while Michael's sweaty face lectured me on how good John St John was.

I was still full of percocets and not drinking, but given my cumbersome sugar tong splint had been replaced with a new, lightweight fibre glass cast I felt it was time to test my newly regained mobility on the dance floor. Now I could never dance, but the new cast was liberating and forced me to wave it all over the dance floor.

Dicky Peach could no longer dance nor walk, and when he failed at drinking his glass of water he was removed, much to his own disbelief. By the time he had exited there was more of his last four drinks spilt on the door than down his throat. The crowd was dropping like flies due to John's electrifying set. Before Max and I became acquainted with a group of lesbians sitting around together, we took bets on Sam being next to be removed.

The lesbians were treated to same colonial theatrics as Max and I fooled them into thinking we were gay. He made quips about 'going down under' and I called him 'my queen', and when they took our charades seriously, we fessed up. The main lesbian then divulged too much information about her personal life as I yawned away.

We may have lied to that group, but Max and I were right about Sam going next. We rejoined the dance floor as John was given a second set at the tail-end of the night. His sobriety was significantly challenged and the wrong cables were pulled at certain points but the dance floor was now full of people, some of which were slipping all over the place. John's battles continued, as some random beats played over other songs. His set ended with the power being pulled as 'We Don't Speak Americano' was about to get interesting.

Our exit was hasty, so much so that after a few blocks we realised we'd left the star dj behind. We waited in the cold, seeing all the puddles that had frozen over and were eventually joined by John. Meanwhile, Sam had called saying he was on some weird bus and had no idea where he was.

We eventually made it back to the centre of Northampton, and Sam was still confused about his whereabouts. Michael's arse-crack was impervious to the cold, as he sat on the steel outer of a trash can. After a 20 minute wait, one taxi showed up. Lee-Roy charmed the driver into letting us take extra people, but we still left more people in the cold. We directed the taxi through Amherst looking for Sam, but he was nowhere to be seen. We assumed he got back ok.

It was an early, frantic and cold start the next day as a group of us were heading on a ski trip to Quebec City. We waited in the cold for an hour before our late buses came by to pick us up. Steve was kind enough to save a seat for John and I and as soon as we were on we joined the masses in parading around in shirts ready to be sharpie'd in a variety of colours.

The bus  headed north, passing through parts of Amherst I didn't know existed. Given the amount of drinking on the bus it didn't take long for the debauchery to follow. Steve revealed his beer can branding on his arse and the first 'piss-stop' presented everyone who stayed on the bus a clear view of people watering the grass. There was no shame from either gender, and given the sparsity of trees, it didn't leave much to the imagination.

Beers were passed around the bus and I managed to ascertain a bonus one or two for having a broken wrist and accent. John had taken to drawing dicks all over people's shirts, unbeknownst to most of the wearers and the toilet at the back of the bus was rapidly filling up.
Dirty Northern Bastard

We were forced to make another stop as we were having some tyre difficulties. Another driver, who had his nickname 'Ace' emblazoned on his jacket, came to our rescue after 30 minutes of waiting to bad dub-step and drunken American girls who didn't shut up.

We were rapidly falling behind and when it felt like things were going smoothly our bus stopped and no one got out. Most people were too drunk to comprehend that the bus had stopped no reason and that we weren't allowed off, but word began filtering through that one of the other buses on the trip (there were 8) had flipped over. Eventually the people running the trip confirmed the rumours that had already spiralled around the bus.

It was an extremely poor piece of managing the incident. Not only we were told not to speak to anyone about the incident, they also provided us with little information. They barred people from telling their families that they were ok and tried to suppress the flow of news as best they could. What they failed to understand was that a bus full of 40 students flipping on a motorway isn't something you can keep quiet. There' things like traffic, emergency services and word of mouth that get these incidents out, and within a few hours the story was all over tv news. Worse yet, we didn't care if we had to turn back to Amherst, we just wanted to know if everyone was ok.

When we continued back on our way to Canada I found out that I knew some people on that bus, but word on their condition was varied. It was uncomfortable, and no amount of electronic music or Willow Smith was going to restore the previous party vibe. Eventually everyone was told to contact their families and tell them they were fine, leading them to reopen their bottles.
Ollie got us lost

Snow had fallen by the time we got to our next piss-stop in Vermont, offering a nice novelty to a required function. We had one more stop for dinner then headed towards the border. All the alcohol was placed under the bus, we were told not to mention anything about the crash to the border police and through some sense of inflated self importance, we told to anticipate the media.

They weren't there (surprise) but it did take well over an hour to go through US and Canadian border patrols and have the bus searched. We all made it through easily enough and the previously stored booze made a triumphant return. It was getting late and everyone wanted to play catch up before we made it to Quebec City. Evan was atrociously drunk and continually called John and I foreigners despite being in Canada. It's his way of showing love.

On the outskirts of the city we saw the snow falling. The skiers were chuffed, everyone else was drunk. When we finally made it to the hotel in the city centre it was around midnight. John and I met our roommates, two girls, one of which was extraordinarily drunk. We all dropped our gear off and as John and I got changed to get ready to go out, the really drunk girl just stripped down and didn't make it out for the rest of the night. It was too much, too soon.

John and I met everyone else and stormed a taxi someone else had called. They complained they called it 25 minutes earlier, Dave refuting their claims saying he called it 30 minutes earlier. It didn't matter in the end, everyone was heading to Chez Dagobert, a three storey night club located in a castle like building. The place had been talked up all trip, but from the top level I couldn't help but remark to Michael how much it reminded me of a scene from Trainspotting.

Above the dancefloor the overhead lights moved up and down on their mobile rafters. American grinding filled the floor as I again busted cast moves. Foam rained from the roof and when the ugly lights turned on, drunk American's chanted 'UMass' on and on. When we exited the club we were treated to a proper snow fall. The few of us not experienced in this type of weather were excited and instead of fighting for a taxi elected to spend the next hour walking home.

It was cold, wet, and all the harsh things about snow they don't advertise, but it was also a great deal of fun. I didn't care that I nearly slipped and busted my wrist again, I was too busy trying to catch snowflakes in my mouth.

At 4AM the hotel was full of drunk college students walking around the hallways. A few signed my cast but after being moved on I settled into bed. John and I immediately realised how deceptively small the beds were and also noted that we had shared a bed together more times than not over the last few days. I'm sure it's something that would make some girls very envious of me.

The next day John, Michael, Ollie, Dave, Josh and I braved the snow to see some of Quebec City. We got directions from a heavy metal fan, but Ollie still got us lost. Dave and Josh left the group following our poutine stop, and the remainder of us trudged through the snow on our way to the historic part of the city.

We stopped to throw snowballs and build a snowman, but very quickly we realised our feet and hands were paying a severe price for our fun. Our sojourns through the city took us past a number of monumental and old buildings, but it was a little hard to appreciate them in our cold states. A stop at a pub was designed to warm us up, and while I passed on the beer, my painkillers were still sending me to sleep at inappropriate times.
Snowman and MIchael's jocks.

The sun had disappeared following our short pub visit, and when we exited we exited we were greeted by the coldest weather I have ever encountered. We took refuge in a ice-hockey shop, then passed a public ice-skating rink before a taxi was able to take us back to the hotel.

I one-handedly ate ramen noodles for dinner before we all headed to the pub Ozone. The pitcher deals we were promised no longer existed, and the bathroom was unisex, forcing us gents to relieve ourselves in front of an audience of lady folk.

I departed ozone to head back to Chez Dagobert before all of the crowds. Remarkavbly, nothing about the place had changed from the night before. The crowds rolled in, and there was more filthy grinding than the night before. It's clearly a cultural thing, because I don't have the gumption to grab a girl and rub my crotch against her. It's sexual assault where I come from.

At the closing of the night we all battled for a taxi, and unlike the states the driver kicked our excess passengers. When it came to paying, I contributed my share and exited the taxi, only to realise immediately my wallet had slipped out of my pocket. Crap.

All I could do was ask the hotel to phone some taxi companies and hope that it showed up. Without it I had no way of getting cash, no idea, no health insurance and hours of painful bureaucracy to deal with. Ugh. Since my phone wasn't working I did my best to contact home via facebook (gross). My poor mum would have the lovely birthday surprise of realising that she would have to do most of the work to fix this mess...a week after her son broke his wrist.
large-scale flip cup

90 minutes after the taxi left, I had resigned myself to losing my wallet. I went back to reception before bed to see if there were any updates and right in front of the desk was the taxi driver. He gave me back my wallet, sans cash ($50 Canadian/US and $10 Australian!) and all the cards had been taken out and put into one section. He wouldn't hand over my drivers licence until I gave him $30 for the trip back to the hotel. Despite it being 4:30AM, he claimed he had come from the airport. I had to borrow the money, and for the sum of around $80 I got my wallet back. Phew.

Still, it could have been worse. A lad who sat in front of me on the bus had his wallet stolen from him in a mugging the night before. Better yet, his seat neighbour was found in a ditch and taken to hospital the night before. He only made the bus when he secretly escaped from hospital!

The bus trip back was a significantly quieter journey. Everyone was exhausted from the weekend. Even Evan had kept his mouth shut. Things were going smoothly until we got to US customs, and the issues I had from when I first arrived in the States presented itself again. I held up the bus for a few minutes as I had to pay for more paperwork to make me more legal over here. Eventually, and exhaustingly we made it back to Amherst, just in time for the final week of classes.

Not to be overshadowed by work and follow-up x-rays, a group of international students all got together for a mass dinner. The semester has absolutely flown by, and in a few days a number of the people will be leaving. It's reminiscent of my time in Scotland, where the group of people I shared it with defined the place for me. Since everyone has moved on, I can never return to that place, as without the same people there it no longer exists.

arse-holes on ice-skates

Still, we're not going to break-up quietly and after a dinner punctuated by scorpion bowls. It was a xmas miracle that everyone made it into Stackers with the myriad of fake ids on offer. We began the night by dropping coins in beers again, and young Alex in his enthusiasm at just being in a pub swallowed the coin (no word on its exit so far). The coins caused everything to get rowdy, and mass singalongs of Oasis and the like followed. Tears began to flow with the beer, and though it may not have hit at the time, it was the last chance we would get everyone together.

Between that, the holidays and significant dates around this time of year, it's hard to balance exactly how to feel. The days left with people are turning into hours, but beyond that I'll be spending the next 4 weeks with my backback visiting the cities of the East Coast. Until then, it's all good-byes, exams and long nights with great friends.

Jesse Malin - All The Way From Moscow
Jesse is playing an xmas show on Monday in Noho. I stared listening to him due to his Ryan Adams connection, but he is outstanding in his own right. Between this song and his cover of Fairytale of New York, he is absolutely owning my sonic-space.

We had the prettiest snow fall the other day. It was a lovely reminder to how far I've come, scenes like this seem so distant now.