|The end of the street I stayed in, looking from Lower East Side towards Soho, NYC April 2012|
Any journey to a place never ends as long as you recall the trip. Each day my travels develop more in mind and affect my life back here in New Zealand. The love I have for my friends and my deep appreciation for one in particular is so affecting I feel like singing in the supermarket queue and did so last night, quietly, which caused a number of people to smile at me and everything was so much more pleasant. This is Grey Lynn, Tamaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand where people appreciate such things as a quiet song in a waiting time, I love where I live and I loved travelling to Am e ri ca, I am so full of love there's plenty to spare.
Here's a place to practise your Maori for when you get here by the way, Julie, Dana and others who are considering this trip - http://www.korero.maori.nz/forlearners/basics/lessons/tahi-wordlist.html
There you are Julie, easy to learn when you have the google, ha. Go on, surprise us.
I have lost a lot of my photos due to a theft of my laptop at LA Security Check, in their airport, so this picture is from this site - http://goodjesuitbadjesuit.blogspot.co.nz/2010/08/nativity-mission-center-in-lower-east.html
For all my time since I've left America I have every day been haunted by the image of a homeless man who approached me in the Lower East Side, just before I got to the post office. His picture floats into my mind occasionally and I want to stop, reach out to him in some gesture of greeting, dip into my purse and give him money, chat for a while and find out what he needs, where he's from and how he came to be there taking off his hat and speaking to me, asking for help. I want to take him to a hotel and give him a warm place to sleep, get someone to wash his old body and sing to him. I suppose to me this aged, oddly charming and strange man represents every homeless person I have ever seen, all the issues I wish I could change in an afternoon, but also, there was just something about him, individually. I have to write about this or it could break me open like a pinata, all my insides strewn everywhere for wild children to grab and run off with....
Writing helps me understand and move on.
It had been quite a trek from the edge of Soho past a park on my right, to a busier road into the Lower East Side through sudden odd sounds, peculiar sights and weird smells. I was totally unaccustomed to this great monster and gem of a city, despite all the movies and films I'd seen set there, despite all the books I'd read and songs I'd heard, (despite having been there a few days already). Using a stick to walk with, (my arthritis still an issue then and I liked how some people took extra care round me when I held it, plus I thought I could use it as a weapon if I had to), off I went along and across streets where people drive on the wrong side of the road as far as I am concerned.
Constantly looking everywhere for fear of being run over, I looked demented I knew, but really could not get used to looking the new way to make sure a car wasn't going to smash into me. Anyway, no one much cared what I looked like, really, (except when I seemed exotic, then they were curious). People in NYC are characterful, all of them, exaggerated by their circumstances and the furious struggle to stay in control, to keep life going while anything seems possible, it's exhilarating. It was a relief in many ways to not be peculiar particularly, but to be in a huge crowd of oddities and wonder, the people o wow, the NYC people, they're magnificent. (I was so lucky James showed me around too, I'd never have seen so much without his brilliance and kindness).
So, James who looked up where the post office was for me on his phone the day before, showed me the route on the tiny screen, then. It looked simple but we both knew I'd find it tough. I thanked him in this doubtful tone while I looked at how many streets there were to walk along, alone, and he laughed, not unkindly but in a challenging way I suppose. (We're both of us from places outside New York City, where what we're accustomed to is less harsh shall we say and less busy, where our sensitivities are assailed in quite different ways and the struggle to survive is not so evident everywhere about us. We've also known each other for many years online, we're artists, we find everyday life startling at times even if it's 'normal'. So James and I shared an understanding that this walk to the post office I wanted to take to post things to NZ, Chicago and Seattle was not any saunter in the park for me, no toddle).
I suppose many people reading this blog may imagine it was all a delightful fun time, with new sights and relaxing conversations abounding, but travelling alone, an older woman travelling by herself and travelling so far in these times of extra-checks and dang er, really takes a toll. I'm an artist too, so I do feel things at times more strongly than others may do. This can be terrifying. A woman alone is too often shown little respect generally, we're like this target for some people, they're scornful or treat us like we're to be pushed out of the way, because they're in a group and bullies. I had to mention my attachment to a particular man to get some of them to stop behaving like I was some kind of bad omen, in some places. People have the strangest prejudices.
I do not like the narrow-minded as I may have mentioned before. That's one of my biases.
Yes, so anyway travelling takes a toll on a person, on anyone, let alone someone like me who can get agoraphobia in Grey Lynn Auckland. I am at times scared to go out here where there's hardly anything going on, imagine what I was like in New York City, just off Soho after travelling for almost a month and a half. Ha.
Sincerely, if it wasn't for my friends and us having so much in common, so I wasn't flung into strange places and peculiar situations so much as shown things people loved, by great people who I already had a real rapport with, if it wasn't for those wonderful people, my friends, I could never ever have done this trip, probably not even with someone else along.
I did it for friendship. That's why I went across the Pacific Ocean in a cruise ship. A boat uses less carbon per person than a plane. I wanted to be a friend to people I didn't even know, to buy things on islands where people depended on tourism to live above subsistence. I didn't want bargains, I wanted to contribute to their economy. I wanted to appreciate their countries and love them. This I did. It was a joy. Then in Am e rica I wanted to meet friends and strengthen those invisible bonds we enjoy, which we need now more than ever before, all of us everywhere. It is not necessary to travel to do this of course, but having not had a holiday for 20 years, I decided I could plant trees to cover the carbon cost and just go, enjoy myself properly for a change doing something I'd always dreamt of and longed for, since I'd got to know these other writers online. So I did.
It still feels daring.
I'll never be the same.
This was like adding on an entire new floor to my house of myself and furnishing it, then inviting people over who came and loved the place. We're still in there, conversing.
For past decades any spare time I had I always went to see my mother, so it may have appeared I was going on a holiday, 'to the beach' but it wasn't at all. The driving eventually gave me OOS, or contributed to it since I was going there every three weeks when Mum got really ill, driving three hours one way then three hours the next, it almost did me in. Whangamata is a lovely place by the sea, however I hardly ever saw the ocean or the beach I liked to visit with my mother and talk or just be there in the house where she lived alone. I'm not going to expound upon this except to say I am glad we had so much time together talking, now I can imagine conversations between us and they are some comfort since she's gone. My mother was a great storyteller, inspiring.
An ex also insisted we drive round the South Island for two weeks which I did enjoy in a manner of speaking, but did not choose to do myself, nor in conversation or any kind of planning situation. It was rather an ordeal for the most part, and expensive in ways I had to pay for over some time later. This also I did not consider was a holiday, since I hadn't agreed to it in any kind manner and yet I forgive that whole shemozzle, the past cannot have been any different.
Now some may recall, I was flown overseas twice to England, conferences for my work in education, but that also was not a holiday, believe me.
Once I realised carbon was killing people and the planet I refused to take any plane trip like that merely for my own enjoyment in any case, it seemed criminal and it still does unless I do something to undo the damage I'm causing. That's why I'm planting trees to cover the carbon, and buying some in South Australia, so I do not feel like a mur derer.
However, enough of that, now there I am on the last part of my poeticjourneytoamerica in fact, in the last week, on a walk alone through a sunny spring day in NYC, to the post office in the lower east side.
Here it is here, but this was at a time of day when it was all in shadow - http://www.flickr.com/photos/29557279@N07/5625523473/
Then this homeless man, he appeared at the end of my long walk, just when the post office was in sight on this grey street in shade, with graffiti on the blue postbox ahead, brick buildings beside me and a few rather stunted-looking trees growing from places in the sidewalk, at intervals. A slightly run-down neighbourhood; quite a few people looked worn out and wore serviceable mid-colour and dark clothes, less flash than around the edge of Soho where I'd been staying. He wore dark blue and black clothes, was a really dark man himself and slim, quite tall about six foot two, wearing a wide-brimmed newish yellow straw hat. This man was also hung with various objects like large wooden spoons on strings and his face looked crumpled like he'd had an accident or a stroke, so it all kind of sloped to one side, but he saw me, eyes lit up a little, looked like he admired what I was wearing in this really benign manner, he stopped, spoke and his cracked voice was so gentle, so lovely even though I could not understand a word, precisely. But I think he said, 'Please Ma'am, could you spare something?'
I almost stopped, gaped, felt in awe of him.
We were about a metre apart or a little more, maybe two metres.
I eyed the post office ahead, where I imagined it could be. But I glanced back at him. My steps were all in slow motion. I noticed all this about him in mere moments.
The strange man held his straw hat in one hand the crown down, and the other hand gestured outwards a little. He did not move otherwise from the spot he stood in, as if he could wait there for all time til I responded.
And I wanted to react and stop so much; only a moment I gaped at him. Then I remembered my rule for safety, 'Keep on walking, do not stop for anyone,' (since I did live in our inner city for years and there you never stop for people who ask you things at night or in dodgy ways, so I grew accustomed to not stopping at all for anyone ever, unless I knew them).
It felt like a crime to duck my head and break our glance, to keep on walking and go on by. But I got a sense of complete understanding from this man as I did pass by, it was like he appreciated my doing whatever I wished. He did not swear or growl, he wasn't angry or disappointed. It was fine, except I wished things could've been better, different, more give and take.
I can see the man in dark blue and black with his wide straw hat in hand now, even though I did not look back, can see him watch me go since he could've turned a little and maybe admired my long, green paisley overdress. There's this kind of appreciation society world-wide for funky, I make appreciative glances at some people's look and they at me, reasonably often everywhere, it's fun and just human beings sharing a style moment. (Two dark men in Atlanta airport sat opposite me and one murmured to the other, 'O ain't she rare.' The other murmured agreement. It wasn't intrusive, just appreciative. I loved it, kind attention always welcome). Anyway, I think he really did like how I looked, (anyone who knows me surely understands I have this extrovert style), and I think he gathered that I was really rather amazed and impressed by him. We'd done the mutual admiration thaaang.
Then I imagine he put his hat on again and walked on with his wooden spoons and things swinging about himself.
I love the image of him in my memory and will always treasure it.
And if you ever see this man in the Lower East Side of NYC and have something in your pocket please, give it to him.
Now, I like to think this man in dark blue with his sensible shady straw hat was so charming he went on and gathered a goodly amount for himself that day. It's writing about him that brings me to this conclusion. A person so memorable and gentlemanly, so stylish and even elegant with his outrageousness, this all the more wonderful because he appeared to be in a state of extreme hardship and oddity, what a rare and wonderful human being to have met however briefly. Luck takes many forms. And maybe he wasn't homeless, but an artist who took to the streets and gathered money simply for how he looked? Maybe some people are paid to be themselves?
There are anyway some programmes and people helping to reduce homelessness in NYC -
There is too this poem for today -
suspended in the sound of bells
keeping out of mischief
could concertina the ocean
some darts with pins perhaps
make it easier to paddle over there
this minute to miss you properly
you'd be away or busy
turned into a sunning creature for weeks
somewhere foreign in the neighbourhood
then there's the distraction of running
wondering if my voice has been hi-jacked
hooligan secret identity mongers
smiles and rattles in mid-sun
an aeroplane cuts across
talking about trees