Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life imitates art imitating art

After recent adventures had left me sans bed, I was more than happy with the relative luxury of a hostel bunk. See, I like hostels. There's always someone to talk to, they're cheap and for the most part, they encourage you to get out of them and see a city. Even the lack of privacy or snoring don't bother me too much. It's just that every once in a while, you get another guest who is not quite on the same page as the rest of the world. Last night was one such encounter.

The alarm bells should have gone off when he said he travelled three and a half days on a bus from Northern California, in between his swigs on straight Jagermeister. He confused me for Canadian (eh?) and told me he had been all over the world, but didn't remember any of it. By the time he told me he worked as a spy and that everything on display in museums was fake I noticed his first bottle was empty. He came and went throughout the room all night and even told one of the other guests from Singapore that it was actually in China because he'd been there. It all reached a peak at 3:30AM, when he was on his mobile phone and talking loudly to someone on the other end. He stood at the other end of the room, staring out the window explaining to his phone buddy that the flashing light in the distance was the people looking for him. He went on, untangling words to the effect that he was happy to change his name again. I stopped caring, fell back asleep and when I awoke he was gone.


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I couldn't wait to get out of the hostel and made my way straight to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Immediately (after the security check) I got to place my thumb on a rock from the moon and check out the Apollo 11 capsule. For three hours I wandered around, touring through the basics of flight to the Ares rocket. The place defines bravery, with the original Wright Brothers displayed metres from the supersonic Bell X1. I'm sure they'd display Joseph Kittinger-if only they could fit his balls through the door.

At one stage I stopped by a cut away version of a Rolls Royce turboprop engine designed in the 1940s. It wasn't the grandest or most historically significant piece in the museum, but I spent the most time on it. My Grandfather, John McGregor, worked for Rolls Royce in East Kilbride, Scotland, where they produced such engines. The chance that he had anything to do with this particular one is slim, but the complexities and beauty of it left me impressed. I never met my Grandfather, he passed away when my Mum was nine, but I also did not expect I would feel closer to him by travelling to Washington D.C.

I was all engineered out, and like a previous moment in my life, turned my back on it. I found myself at the Hirshorn Museum, a fantastic gallery in a building that looks like a large scale doughnut. It was fantastic, and I hope my friend Brenna would be proud of what an art-wanker I've turned into. I did laps of each circular floor, and for purely nostalgic reasons loved the exhibit by Mario Garcia Torres. A turntable played the background music as two Kodak Carouselsspun through slides. It was only last week Kodachrome stopped being developed, due to a lack of chemicals, and now things like slides will be ending up like my engineering career.

I missed the point when I saw Soto's Eight Silver after I peered up close and saw how it all worked. I did manage to see another Edward Hopper painting though, as when I went to the Whitney to see his exhibit I was so messed up on percocets from my broken wrist I could barely stand.
Cape Cod Morning

Georgia O'Keefe

Across town the American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery had more Hopper. Great. It also had a number of American president portraits, even if I couldn't find the John Adams one I was after. The place was full of fantastic paintings, and the total value would probably exceed that of some countries. It's amazing that people should criticise America for a lack of culture, when all they have to do is spend some hours in D.C. Mind you, the folk art exhibit looked like a thrift store had been put behind glass cabinets. As well as presidents, the gallery also had some great portraits of the poets Allen Ginsberg and Frank O'Hara.

On my seven day visit to Latvia, my friend Shaun and I met two English girls Helen and Nicole. I've kept in contact with them since, and Nicole even came along to a barbecue by the beach in Wollongong. I've since repaid the favour and we went out for falafel and a drink tonight. Like revisiting your primary school as an adult, the world is getting smaller than I remember it.

The Mountain Goats - Sax Rohmer #1
Stephen Colbert once said "the mountain goats would have a twitter page if the crushing emptiness of life could be expressed in 140 characters." Totally right, great band though.

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