Walk with me

Posted in Uncategorized on 12.02.2012 by RoadWorks

The second weekend of the Fire Walk With Me Vol. 2 Tour is over, the last four days spent in Oslo, Bergen, Sandnes and Haugesund.

It was almost entirely a pleasant experience, long hours and many things to take care of but always fun.

The Oslo show was the first date with the guys of Skeletonwitch. It being a Wednesday there was a solid amount of media attention, and a lot of people found their way to John Dee.

The Bergen show wasn’t as well attended as we had hoped but there was still a good atmosphere and a decent amount of people spending their evening watching three different but very good live bands.

Sandnes was the only place where things were below the standard I accept and there are some things that need adressing but it’s being dealt with. Still, a good show and pretty solid turnout.

Haugesund offers one of the best venues in the country, Byscenen, and with the people behind it doing such a flawless job it was a great contrast to the evening before. The bands ended the short tour on a high, all doing powerful shows and finishing it off with a serious bus party.

The morning after we dropped people off at the different locations, Skeletonwitch are travelling home to Ohio after a month in Europe, and Heleen and I were driven to our door by our great driver Francis.

This tour package was a great one, three bands offering diverse takes on music rooted in trash metal. Nekromantheon, while young, is already a very developed live act, pure and honest, full of 80s energy. Skeletonwitch is a live machine, a unit so tight I watched their shows in awe. The confidence and relaxed attitude that was present during changeover would turn into the force of a five headed mega beast as soon as the first song was counted in. Aura Noir, the ugliest band in Norway, proved how much greatness can be found in that ugliness, and with Tank on drums they now have a live lineup that can’t be touched in the black trash realm.

From a drummer’s perspective it was also cool to see three different drummers who had strongly developed styles, guys who really had things to say as performing drummers.

On a personal note, this was a cool group of people to be on the road with, every single one of them. Skeletonwitch adopted Heleen and me as bonus Americans. I also had many great conversations and especially Scott and I ended up talking a lot. New friends have been found on the tour and there are already plans to try and get some of our bands together on the road in the future.

I’ve added some pictures below, also from the first weekend. I don’t take enough pictures as my phone doesn’t do it that well. There’s a new phone on the way, hopefully it will be better and I can tell my stories more through pictures when I don’t have the brain space to use words.

Man, I love touring.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Blood and permafrost

Posted in Uncategorized on 05.02.2012 by RoadWorks

4 hours  sleep, a good breakfast, pack the trailer, hit the road. As we pass Gardermoen the thermometer shows -24 and the van never really heats up. We’re not freezing but this old American van (complete with cassette deck) is not made for this.

As we travel north the road is increasingly snowy, and with worn tires there are a couple of times where the breaks are not enough to stop the van and we slide past cars who stop at crossings. No accidents, though, Francis knows how to handle the wheel.

It takes us 8 hours to reach Trondheim and we’re set up for soundcheck with hours to spare. No problems except for a local soundman who struggles to understand instructions, hence the sound is suffering somewhat through the evening, also on stage.

I’ve been to this venue three months ago, when we played there ourselves, and like then it is a very positive experience. The local contact is a dream to work with, everything gets fixed immediately when requested, always with a smile. As last time there is a certain amount of concert goers with an ego, especially acting out around the merch booth but Heleen keeps them in check, and when someone is a bit too drunk, arms flailing, a guard is always close by.

One of the band members walks on crutches and one guard helped with guiding him on and off the stage, complete professionalism. One of my problems at venues is that you ask for something and it either gets forgotten or it takes a long time to fix. Here everybody was focused and clear minded, a very good crew.

The local band, One Tail One Head, did a good show, complete with the skulls, candles and animal blood. The toilet looked like shit from the blood drenching, but the guys fixed it after the show and it worked very well. Again, in this world, the shitty experiences involving local support acts far surpass the positive ones. But these guys respected the backstage and didn’t intrude too much on the little space we had.

Nekromantheon again did a good show, but the sound wasn’t more than decent, and a bit low. Aura Noir’s set was really good, more bad ass attitude than the night before, and the playing was tighter and more energetic, even though Drammen was good, too.

After the show we packed up on stage and left everything there. It’s hard to do this with a smile when the room is still full of people, and it’s filling up with people who were not there for the show. After the last band the venue transforms into a bar with a DJ, so packing and organizing is more chaotic than what’s good. Still, we did it quickly and effectively and soon we were ready to go our separate ways.

Some people went to an after party, where the moonshine flowed freely, the rest of us went to the hotel. We did the accounting, I did my notes and I ate dinner. When I could finally sleep I had four hours of shuteye before the alarm bell of doom went off again. Off to the venue, pack the trailer, drive south. As I am writing it’s early evening and we still have a couple of hours to go. A couple of drop-offs in Oslo and Kolbotn, then we can get on the bus home. It’ll be a short night before two days of “regular” work, and then we start with the next show in Oslo on Wednesday, where Skeletonwitch will join us for the remaining dates.

The Black Belles sound good right now.

Smoke and mirrors

Posted in Uncategorized on 03.02.2012 by RoadWorks

So, on the road again. Barely.

I met up with our driver this morning, for the second installment of the Fire Walk With Me Tour. The bus came straight from the garage where it had been worked on for a week, and everything went very well. For ten minutes.

As we started climbing the hills of Lier, towards Oslo, the bus started spewing dark smoke. By the time we reached Oslo it was leaving a cloud of dark fumes for several hundred meters behind us. So we stopped a couple of times but made it to the first pick up spot in Kolbotn. Bus loaded with people and gear and we headed to the next stop, the booking agency’s offices in central Oslo. Did I mention all the people honking their horns and pointing to the back of the bus? No, coz by now it had happened so many times that it was getting comical, us just waving and smiling, thumbs up, “yeah, we know”.

Well, we made it to Amber’s offices and with the rest of the travelling party we set sail towards Drammen, where the first show was to happen, and where the bus garage was waiting for the bus to come back in for service again.

We made it, slowly, doing 20 km/h up the hills, but gliding merrily down hill the last stretch. The bus was unloaded at the venue, bus driver goes to the garage. Within twenty minutes he calls me, saying that the people at the garage were leaving for the day and that nobody would stay to work on the bus. A bus they had just done work on, replacing a gas wire that at this point got stuck. Scania Drammen, what a joke.

Alternatives are few but the people at Amber are pros so we get a backup solution and the plan for day two is in place. At least we get to see the mountains in day light, but it’ll be a long day tomorrow.

That said, all band members and crew have been great and spirits are high. The young guys in Condor did a very good show, as did Necromantheon, one trashier than the next. By the time Aura Noir hit the stage the temperature in the room was high and it was a victory lap for the old guys.

Packing, checking in, sleeping a few short hours, hitting the road. Trondheim, beware!

Norge – part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on 21.11.2011 by RoadWorks

So, finally we toured Norway. The band having existed for 17 years, and having been a live act since 2004, we’ve only done a handful of Norwegian shows.

We started out with our first show on September 11, seven years ago, in Halden. Onwards we played Drammen , Fredrikstad and Hamar before we went out in Europe and did Leer, Rotterdam, Lokeren and Arnhem. That last show is where I met Heleen. We then did a show in Kristiansand, one of the most poorly attended shows we ever did, and that was about it. In 2006 we played the Hammerslag festival in Tønsberg, and in 2009 we did two shows at the Inferno festival in Oslo. Until we played 1001 Watt in Skien last month we had only done 8 shows in our home country.

Why? Well, maybe it’s harder to break through at home. But if that was true, then why is Vreid and Enslaved doing so well here? Maybe we didn’t play music that the Norwegian metal audience found attractive. There might be something to that. Maybe the Norwegian metal press doesn’t view us as the “right fit”? That has definitely been true, but has changed with the Inferno show at Rockefeller (review quote: “Earlier I had respect for this band, tonight I became a fan”) and the release of Mare.

Maybe we just haven’t shown them who we are yet. That changed this last weekend.

We started out in my temporary home town, Drammen. This area, previously known as “Norway’s biggest road crossing” has been transformed in the last 10 years and is now an increasingly beautiful river town, with great architecture, blending new builds in with the existing factory architecture. The venue, Union Scene, is one of these buildings, previously a factory of some kind but now a great venue which easily can be changed from a small intimate club into a venue for bigger events. Local crew and personell was generally professional and very helpful, though one guard towards the end showed a complete lack of understanding for what is accepted from the audience.

We met up with the different guys, knowing most of the travelling party from before, aside from the Einherjer guys, and then set about with the usual first-day-of-touring routine of figuring out what we had with us, what kind of setups we would use and how best to do changeovers in an effective way. Easier than usual, as two of the bands have two tours together already this year, so the day was relatively relaxed.

On this tour we do something new, for us. We play first, something we never did, not at a festival, not on tour. This means that A), you start with a “cold” audience, and B), you play early in the evening. Mentally it’s the hardest, as you have to use more of your own energy to get started, but we are used to playing for all different crowds, so in practice it’s easier than theory could suggest. In Drammen the crowd was quite static and careful, aside from a couple of loud voices commenting (“You’re doing well!”, “Still doing well!”, “Yes, keep on like that, very good!”), but it was apparent that people enjoyed themselves. As we left the stage to Einherjer it was with a sense that it could have been better, but that for a band where half the members had been ill for weeks it was at an acceptable level.

Einherjer’s show was more eventful, the fire alarm went off, temporarily stopping the show, and there were some technical problems, but they got through it and Vreid were ready to finish off the audience. As far as I experienced it the show was a good one. They played 7 new songs from what they’ve done on the previous tours, one of which in my eyes is the best Vreid song ever, “Væpna Lengsel”. I never get into their music that much, but this song is brilliant. The show ended with a jackass throwing a (plastic) glass of beer straight at Jarle, who as he walked off stage handed me his bass and stormed into the audience to set the idiot straight. This is where the guard went completely wrong and not only tried to defend the beer thrower, but also admitted that he had seen the guy pour beer into the mixer, without doing anything about it.

The night was cold and so was the bus. We’ve had many buses in the last few years, some fantastic, some average, one very poor. This bus is in the lower level of that scale, but not bad. The biggest problem is that the bunks are small and that the suspension is loose, which doesn’t at all fit Norwegian roads with all their turns and bumps. Suffice to say, the nights were not spent sleeping that much, but with only a couple of nights like this it’s fine. I have little belief that the drive from Bergen next weekend will bring much sleep with those roads they call the “highway” between Bergen and Oslo.

Trondheim was the next stop, at Blæst. The venue is again a very nice one. Small but not cramped. The problem on this evening was that we had been announced by the venue to play later than we did, so as we walked on there were only like 15-20 people in the room. It filled up quickly enough for there to be a feeling of a real audience, but this is the first time with Kampfar that we have played with nobody directly in front of the stage, there was that “opening band” gap of a metre between stage and crowd. This of course just fired us up even more, and as the show progressed we played with the full on intensity that we have become known for through our latest tours. The Dolk energy was especially high this night, with him bitch slapping my cymbals on several occasions and demanding response from the crowd in the way that they dare not ignore. As we walked off it was with a sense of satisfaction, leaving the room ready for the rest of what was coming.

Einherjer had a very good reaction from the crowd, playing for a packed room, as did Vreid, and it was all in all a very good night for everyone involved, the venue included. Next time we come back as headliners and the “trøndere” will see the full face of the beast.

Bonus highlight of the weekend: As we’re sitting in the bus in Trondheim, waiting for load-in, we hear a familiar voice from the front of the bus. It is René from Krákow with his pregnant girlfriend Ingrid in tow. They were just on a weekend trip there when René found out through Facebook that we were also in town. So we had a very nice talk and I got to hear some of the new Krákow stuff that will be coming out soon. I am very excited to dig my teeth into that album when I get a full copy!

Heading south again, this time to Oslo and John Dee, the basement stage of the Rockefeller club. We have played Oslo at Inferno, but then you don’t play for the local audience, that festival has as many from out of town and out of country as they have from the area, so it’s not an indication of what to expect. So we had low expectations for our own part, but expected people to turn up for the other bands.

Well, turn up they did, and in heaps. I don’t know if it was sold out, but where you would put more people, I don’t know. And this was already as we walked on stage, the room was packed. As I started my drum build-up and my scream of “Mare!” the sound from the audience was already piercing through our own wall of sound and that way it continued through our 40 minute set. As a show this turned out to be one of my personal highlights, the playing was good, the energy was as well, the response was great and I enjoyed every single second of the stage time. During the previous two shows I had some issues physically as my cold ridden lungs did not appreciate what I was subjecting them to, but in Oslo I didn’t notice a thing.

As expected the shows of Einherjer and Vreid also went very well and the crowd response again was massive. This tour package is as good a billing as anything else on the road these days.

The evening also brought in some familiar faces, many more than we are used to seeing, and it was especially good to see Endre again. This week he’s off to China to tour with Trail Of Tears, and I am envious but very happy for him. Maybe next time it’s our turn to visit the Far East.

On Wednesday evening we get back on the bus and head for Stavanger, before we have a Black Path reunion with Krákow on Friday in Bergen. It will be awesome!

The real picture

Posted in Uncategorized on 13.11.2011 by RoadWorks

I just stopped updating the blog after coming home from the US. Which means I didn’t even cover the last part of the trip.

In short, we took the train from New Orleans to Newark, it took 30 hours. The journey was very different than the one to NOLA, the atmosphere on the train, the personell, the views, it was just a lot less inspiring. I guess it didn’t help that we were heading home, after a week in one of the most inspiring places we’ve been to. In Newark we stayed in a hotel right by the airport, from Saturday until we left on Monday. The Sunday was spent in Manhattan and Brooklyn. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, spent some time walking through an uninspiring art festival, checked out a couple of stores (hipster heaven?), walked around for a bit, took the subway to Manhattan, walked through Greenwich Village, at the time filled up with baseball fans, with the Yankees cruising against the Red Sox, then found our way to Love Adorned. I am a big fan of the Adorned tattoo shops in New York, mainly for their selection of world class artists. Love Adorned is a jewelry/accessory store run by the woman who runs the tattoo shops, and she came up to me asking about my right arm. In short she wanted the name of the artist so she could invite him for a guest spot. It was getting dark so we headed towards the station to get back to New Jersey. On the way we bought sushi, after learning to love it two weeks earlier, walked past the Occupy Wall Street area for the second time (without noticing them) and then spent some time getting back to our smoke smelling room on the 11th floor.

The flights home were uneventful, aside from possibly the most stressed and unpleasant air steward I’ve seen and the cramped cattle like feel of a Delta plane. It went by fast and all of a sudden we were in Norway. Ready to start over.

Am I ever…

Mentally I’ve been in a vacuum for a long time now. It seems that coming out of the creation process of Mare I’ve been walking around just following the wave that I’m on. Everything I’ve had to do has taken immense energy and most things have been half-assed except for when it really triggers something inside of me. I have loved doing the tours, in those weeks I’ve felt alive and like I can breathe freely, like I can just be myself without all the fucking static that runs through my whole body and mind. When I worked as stage manager on the Aurora Infernalis festival two weeks ago there were long hours and a lot of problem solving needed, lots of hills to climb, and I honestly enjoyed every second of it. I seem to prosper when there is a lack of routine, steady patterns and order, where I can influence the outcome myself. Where there are new people, new places, new external stimulants for my ADHDing excuse of a brain. Everything else I have had to do since March, whether it was all the paperwork for the US visas, the preparations for tours/gigs, the moving to Norway, the getting started on this new life, it’s been half-assed at best, though at times downright hopeless. And fact is, before we move to Bergen, nothing will change.

I am asking myself why I am even writing this. Trying to keep a sense of continuity might be one reason, trying to hotwire my brain into functioning again might be another. I have a history of using writing as a form of therapy, never having taken the step to actually get external help, not from a pro.

People like Louis CK, Marc Maron, Peter Dolving and Tim O’Brien inspire me. If they reach something in me by saying it as it is, maybe I can just let go for once. Not try and hide all the chaos and just let it out so I can get on with my life. I don’t know, it’s been a long process, 20 years of actively working on it, and though I have come far there is a large cliff to climb still.

I need creativity now, I need to play with people. In Arnhem I had the connection with Mondvolland and I love what we made together, and I love what that group continues to produce. In 2010 we had some intense creative periods with Kampfar, and it came at a time where I was exhausted by everything, where my sleep problems turned so bad that I stopped sleeping more than a couple of hours a night, hence the writing of music was a fantastic tool to help me feel on top of things. The following process of developing the artwork and fighting with the label over our choices also gave me power, but as soon as the album was out the balloon deflated and things became one long blur of static white noise.

I have some ideas, I have plans. I have a concrete target, to work with certain people, and I think it has a big potential for helping me feel more on course again. But I need one more, one more big musical cooperation. Blues, hard rock, vintage sounding instruments, lots of life, timelessness, freedom, lots and lots of live playing. I need to take my woman on the road and perform with her, for her to start using her immense voice and for me to develop my second voice as a drummer, to learn to truly groove, to learn to make people dance.  

If the year has brought much frustration it has also brought immense satisfaction. This year I have learned so much about music, investigated and discovered so many avenues, learned and understood what came before what came before. I have fallen in love with Son House’s music. Charlie Patton has shown me that things people do today, he did 100 years ago. Jack White has become a guide through the power of music. David Byrne and Talking Heads have taught me that the 80s could be exhilarating also outside of metal. Brass bands have become cool. I have seen some of my favorite metal bands live for the first time, and been blown away (three of them in one day). I have learned that white men can indeed play the blues, Alan Wilson was damn close to a genius. People like John and Alan Lomax, as well as Harry Smith, have showed the importance of documenting in times before there was any room for self promotion. Staff Bendan Bilili have confirmed to me that true musicians have to make music, even if they have to create their own instruments.

And I have understood, with true intensity, that I need to get tattooed by Thomas Hooper. It will happen.

I shouldn’t complain, I am fortunate to be able to do what I do. But the static means that I rarely see it clearly. Thankfully I am ill right now so I have enough calmness to sit down and write for an hour.

Listen to the 1934 recording of “Oh Death” with Carlie Patton and Bertha Lee. Charlie only got three more months, and he knew it was coming.

 

New Orleans – Part 2: The food, the drinks and the art

Posted in Uncategorized on 28.09.2011 by RoadWorks

THE FOOD

Po’boys, a type of sandwich stuffed with anything the heart may desire, is a great lunch. Unfortunately they’re so filling that you don’t feel like dinner. We had them with fried shrimp and chicken, and next time we will try all other varieties.

Muffaletas are an Italian style sandwich, with a massive amount of meat (different kinds) and olives. Yummie!

We had gumbo twice. The one at Café Beignet tasted more like Norwegian lapskaus than anything else, but it was good. The seafood gumbo at Acme was splendid!

Acme is worth a paragraph of it’s own. Chris, our TM, recommended the chargrilled oysters, and knowing how religious he is above food, it was a massive recommendation. This place does not take reservations, and it’s a popular place, so we lined up outside hoping the wait wouldn’t be long. We were lucky, we waited about ten minutes and we were in. For starters we had the chargrilled oysters, and what a treat they were! They were swimming in garlic and parmesan and the flavor was out of this world! Try them! For main course we had several sides instead of one main, so Heleen had gumbo and jambalaya and I had seafood etouffee and red beans and rice.  All of it was great and all of it tasted of New Orleans at it’s best. Then there was desert. I don’t like cheesecake too much but they had a banana variety so I tried my luck. Insane, is the only word I can use. It was such a flavor explosion, not too sweet at all, just a perfect blend of flavours and texture! Heleen had pecan parfait with homemade vanilla ice cream, also very good. This place is loud and chaotic, but the staff is great and the food amazing, so you forget about the noise quickly.

Another New Orleans institution is Café du Monde. This place turns 150 years old next year and their menu hasn’t changed much through the years. Basically you get beignets, a deep fried doughnut like thing (more like oliebollen but still different) covered in fine sugar and coffee. You order the beignets in threes and the coffee they are known for is their own take on café au lait. Heleen wanted normal coffee, and their chicory infused kind went in with a smile.

K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen is known as much for their food as for their flamboyant owner Paul Preudhomme. We went there for lunch, and it was another low key but bombastically flavorful experience. Heleen had some very good barbecue ribs with tremendous dirty rice, I had Chicken Wild Brassica on fried rice, another great meal, rich in flavours and putting a smile on the eater that lasts a while.

Walk as far east as you can in Bywater and you should end up near The Joint. This yellow shack, run by a group of rocking dudes, specialize in juicy barbecue. We ordered chicken, ribs and sausages. They came with fries (with the skins on, which is quite common over here) and the sausages came with a mustardy sauce. I don’t like mustard most times, but these sausages were great on their own, and amazing with the sauce. Heleen’s ribs were as tasty as they were juicy, only the chicken was a bit lame. Next time we are trying EVERYTHING ELSE on the menu!

Bywater Bar-B-Que is known as the other great barbecue place in town. Those who like their bbq drier go here instead of to The Joint. We didn’t actually test their barbecue, though, we had lunch there and so Heleen had the Bywater Chicken and I had the Voodoo Chicken. Both were very good, so next time we will try the ribs and their other offerings. And yes, that there will be a next time for most of these places is certain.

Aside from these bigger experiences we tried Hubig’s pies, a distinctly Louisianian take on fruit pie. Not that great if you ask me, but fans of old fashioned baked goods should like them. Pralines are big in NOLA and the creamy ones didn’t work for us, but the praline pecans were quite nice. Instead of beer nuts they served spiced popcorn at some bars, nice enough but not something we will miss.

THE DRINKS

Wanna drink, then this is the place! They claim that the cocktail and it’s name stems from the city, and they drink like they get royalties off every single one.

I’ve mentioned the Sazerac, an “autumny” drink with a long history. I drank it on a very hot day, though in an air conditioned space, and I think it would work better for me if I drank it at home a month from now. But we can always try that, I can make it myself.

The Absinth Frappé has very little in common with frappé or the more American frappe (pronounced “frap”), but it was fun drinking it at the Old Absinthe House, with the explanation from the bartender while watching it being made. It tastes very much like you would expect from something absinthe related (though there actually isn’t any absinthe in the drink). The way they serve it here is based on how the drink evolved after absinthe was banned, and though you can get it made the way they used to it’s somewhat more authentic to drink it the way we did.

The Hurricane, a drink we make with great success at home, comes from New Orleans. More specifically, in fact, from Pat O’Brien’s. We had a day out, it was hot and the rain was pouring down, so we decided to try the original. It’d almost have been better staying out in the rain. The bar was very loud, and clearly a place where people were just stopping by for one drink, tourist style. The drink we got was red lemonade with a strong taste of cheap rum, nothing good about it. Well, we got a good buzz off of it, so walking through town afterwards was a little more fun, at least. And the waiters were cool enough.

One thing they do well in The Big Easy is that when you order a drink with alcohol, you get enough of that alcohol. A rum and coke is 1/3 rum, a lot of ice and then they fill in the gaps with coke. The same for other simple mixers. One rum we found to be very good (bartender’s recommendation) is Mayer’s Dark Rum. At least I think that’s how the name is written, will have to investigate further. At some point we just stopped checking out what was behind the bar as long as they had this brand of rum.

I don’t like milk in my coffee. My father always drank it in his, which would stand out because everybody else used cream, but for me it makes two decent flavours taste like one unattractive goo. Still I thought I should try the Café au Lait at Cafe Du Monde, which is 50/50 hot milk and hot coffee. To my surprise it actually tastes quite good, and it works greatly with the beignets there.

You think Americans and you think beer and you remember Monty Python’s words: “American beer is like making love in a canoe; it’s fucking close to water”. But hey, there’s a whole massive movement dedicated to quality beers. On most of the tour we had dark beers more than light ones, and in Portland I bought some great ones, so I looked forward to checking out the two main breweries in the region, NOLA Brewing Company and Abita. The latter’s Amber, a lager true to it’s monicker, is the beer of choice in the city, the average beer drinker’s go-to beer. But they have some other great ones too, and though I wasn’t able to try them all (really wanted to test the Jackimo) I was surprised to love the Purple Haze one. This is a light and fruity ale with raspberries, and for one who doesn’t like his beer fruity, this was a great surprise. Another one that hit home was NOLA Brewing Company’s smoked beer, great with food!

Woodchuck Cider was tested by Heleen, and it fit in between the British style ones and the very sweet Scandinavian ones. Nice for one or two but it couldn’t compete with the rum and cokes.

THE ART

I saw a Banksy. In fact I saw one and a half. To me Banksy is possibly the most interesting visual artist of my generation, maybe aside from tattoo artists like Thomas Hooper and Grime. In Vancouver I bought a book on/by him, and on the train to NOLA we watched Exit Through The Giftshop. I even knew that he had been to New Orleans, but somehow I had forgot about it by the time we got there. So imagine the joy and excitement when Heleen pointed out the easily recognizable image of the girl under the umbrella. New Orleans has a different take on aesthetics than most, if not all, American cities. So some of the Banksys (three years old now) are protected with plexi glass. This is one of them, and it was such a treat to finally see one with my own eyes.

On a late night walk back from the French Quarter we also came across the looter one, now the victim of the idiot that is the Grey Ghost, or Fred Radtke. You can find some of the Ghost’s “work” here, incl. the Looters: http://eaaphoto.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/banksy-in-new-orleans-then-and-now/

Street art has a special place in the art world as it seldomly received any protection, In fact it’s value is ignored, misunderstood or ridiculed by those in charge and this makes the value somewhat stronger. If a piece of art only exists for a few days, what kind of (non-financial) value does it have? When the art is free for you to see but only within a limited amount of time, how does it compare to your Mona Lisa, Scream or Night Watch? Can it be compared?

To me what Banksy does is high art. He has a point to make, but as he is a child of his time there is a lack of pretension and a sense of humour permeating through everything he says. It hits home with me, and the more I learn about his art the more it triggers something inside me.

Both Banksys we found are in the pictures below.

The B&B we stayed in is part-owned by a woman who is an authority on folk art, having written several books on the subject and the inside bore witness of this. The greatest part for me was the extensive library, and especially one book gave me a lot of treats. It was a book on the photographer Clarence John Laughlin, the first true surrealist photographer in the United States. His photographs from the 30s, both architectural, experimental and especially those with human subjects have a very special atmosphere to them, something that stirred the right things in me. The one that stayed with me the most, “Mother”, can be seen here: http://compassrosebooks.blogspot.com/2009/05/archetype-of-decadence-on-photograph-of.html

Google Laughlin’s name for more pictures.

When I have needed to listen to music on my own I have kept coming back to Kraków’s Monolith through our whole journey. I have also spent time with Son House, Dr. John and Killing Joke. When I travel I barely read and I don’t listen to music nearly as much as at home, I think the movement and the constant changes are enough for my over active brain, and the need for escape becomes a lot less.

 

I wish I could write so much more  but the experiences are piled up and mixed around in such a way that I can’t make sense of all of it right now. I had also intended to write about the people we met but that would take such focus that I can’t express the relationships in a valuable way right now. All I know is that traveling changes you, little by little, and it’s through the art, the nature and the human beings that the biggest stimulants for change come about.

For the interested, this is essential viewing: Spike Lee’s When The Levees Broke and the follow-up If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise, eight hours of documentaries. And check out David Simon’s (The Wire) HBO series Treme. Two seasons have aired so far, and HBO have given them carte blanche to do the two or three more seasons they need to tell the whole story.

New Orleans – Part 1: The music and the places

Posted in Uncategorized on 26.09.2011 by RoadWorks

Writing this in several stages after having left New Orleans, I am trying to summarize our stay in that greatest of cities, New Orleans. A chronological account is not an option, the impressions are too many and too scattered in my mind. So I’ll attempt to group them together in a way that makes sense to me. Part one comes here:

New Orleans is a place unlike anywhere else I’ve visited or lived. It’s background story, with the French and Spanish rule, and how the area was used as a pawn in a European power struggle in the 18th and early 19th centuries already meant that this was gonna be a different place than anywhere else. Then you have Algiers, across the river from the French Quarter, where all slaves from West Africa were “housed” upon arrival to the continent. Most, if not all, slaves came through there, being groomed, fed and made to look their best before being brought over the Mississippi to be sold in town. Then you have the fact that this was the first free haven for Afro-Americans, something that ended with the Civil War, but the impact they had on the city, and with that the whole world, is a massive part of the city and the state’s current identity.

This is the city where Congo Square lies. The importance of this little piece of land can not be exaggerated; it is the epicenter of what is today’s modern music. This is where the local slaves would gather every Sunday to dance and express their individual national dances and customs. This custom grew so famous that slaves and other curious travelers came in from far and wide. This is where Louis Armstrong learned everything that helped him revolutionize jazz. This is the birth place of the whole jazz movement, and with it’s impact stretching further up the Mississippi it also influenced the blues, which in turn became rock, metal and all other facets of the current musical landscape. Congo Square is ground zero of modern music.

We never got to stand on Congo Square. It is part of the Louis Armstrong Park in the Tremé neighborhood, a park that is currently being renovated, so the closest we got was ten meters away, looking through the massive fence surrounding the park.

Let’s look at the things we got to do instead:

THE MUSIC

We arrived in NOLA on Friday night, around 20:00. The train was five hours late due to several incidents, and as we had tickets to the Ponderosa Stomp festival, we hurried to the Bed & Breakfast, showered quickly, called a cab and headed for the Howling Wolf Club. We, maybe naively, expected the acts to be set up in the way we are used to from other festivals, with the smallest first, ending with the headliner. Instead they had Allen Toussaint start at 22:00, the second biggest acts before him and then the smaller acts in the end. We arrived right after Toussaint started so we did at least get to see his show, and it was a very enjoyable hour. Unfortunately the atmosphere in the crowd was different than expected, the audience consisting mainly of middle aged white people who danced stiffly and hollered to the stage during pauses. Still, we had been in town for two hours and we were standing next to one of the actors of Treme while watching Allen Toussaint play hit after hit. It didn’t feel all too genuine in there, but we were definitely in the right place. The other acts were very up and down, but there was one funk act that was brilliant, though chaotic.

Sunday and we had planned to go for the younger side of New Orleans musical culture. Nope, we weren’t going to a bounce show, maybe next time, but we went to see the Hot 8 Brass Band. This is one of the younger and hipper brass bands in town, who are making it big on the national scene now. The played in the Den, a small side room to Howling Wolf, which they do every Sunday unless they’re on the road. The story of Hot 8 is the story of New Orleans. 3 or 4 (can’t remember exactly right now) members of the band have died in the 10 years they’ve existed, causes ranging from heart attacks to being gunned down. One of the trumpet players is in a wheelchair after being hit by a passing car as he was changing a tire on his car along the highway. But they play, and they play good! As Heleen said, this was the moment when we “arrived” in New Orleans. The room wasn’t packed, but the people who were there, an eclectic mix of people of different social and geographical backgrounds, expressed their connection with the music in different ways. Some danced like mad, some bobbed their heads, some tried to dance but looked to stiff to move properly, and I tried to just let go and experience the music. Heleen is a natural when it comes to acting with music, there is something of that ancient African gene pool in there that isn’t shy. For me it’s buried much deeper and I don’t know if I will ever be able to reach it, but I am trying to let go of my ego and my pre-programmed ways, to see what will happen. It’s part of the bigger journey and the road is made as we go.

The most legendary of today’s brass bands is Rebirth Brass Band. Some would say that Treme Brass Band is more legendary, and I wouldn’t argue that, considering the impact they have had and continue to have in old age (Lionel Batiste is still leading the final day parade at Molde Jazz Festival every year), but Rebirth belongs to the current generation. Started in 1982 by Kermit Ruffins and two brothers (whose names escape me) this band grew into a force on the party scene in New Orleans and the rest of the country. In the 90s Kermit pulled out of the band to do more of his own thing, but Rebirth has kept on going strong. That included doing a show at the Maple Leaf bar in Oak Street, further west of the city centre than where we stayed most of the time, every Tuesday for a couple of decades. The bar had a great atmosphere, very nice staff and is known as a place where locals and tourists gather in a blend of love for music and having a good time. As opposed to the Hot 8 show, this night the place was completely packed, actually making it difficult to move around during the two sets. These guys can play, needless to say, and the crowd was on fire. Too bad the sound in the room is pretty shitty, the front line of horns drowning out the bass of the two sousaphones and the drummers, but it still worked well as a show.

One of the first things we had decided we wanted to do was watch Kermit Ruffins at Vaughan’s. This is an institution itself, every Thursday for 20 years in a crummy little bar on the eastern edge of Bywater, right across the canal from the Lower Ninth Ward. We first had dinner at The Joint, more on that later, and then we headed for what from the outside can only be described as a dilapidated shack. Inside, however, it’s a cosy and friendly place on two levels, with a small backline set up iin one corner. The drinks were $4-5, we drank Mayer’s Dark Rum with coke and didn’t pay more than $4 per drink. Kermit arrived a bit late, but his band was even later, so the show started about an hour after schedule. Nothing out of the ordinary there, nobody’s in a hurry. They started out with some slow lounge jazz, and took some time before they started building up to the party atmosphere that would  be present for the rest of the evening. But when they hit that beat, then it was time for the room to erupt. They mixed old classics with newer material, incl. a Black Eyed Peas song and the Treme theme by John Boutté, all of it with Kermit’s voice and signature silver tones added. The crowd here was the most mixed of our whole stay, and people seemed to be genuinely pleased to be there, as well as being a bit star struck from the presence of one of modern jazz’s biggest contemporary legends. Kermit himself just walked around smiling, as he seems to always do, and that positive vibe made a mark on the whole evening.

Music is ever present in NOLA, you hear live music when you walk through seemingly quiet streets, there is recorded and live music coming out of people’s houses, there are buskers on the street corners, and there is a groove running through the whole place. Whatever music you’re into, you will find something of interest in The Big Easy.

THE PLACES

We stayed in Bywater, also known as the Upper Ninth Ward. New Orleans is divided into wards and Louisiana is divided into parishes, as opposed to counties in the rest of the US. This stems back to the French rule, and is just a couple of many things that separate the city and the state from the rest of the nation. Bywater is neighbored by Faouborg Marigny which in turn borders on the most famous part of the city, the French Quarter. As house prices have risen people have moved further away from the center, and that’s why you now find a lot of artists, musicians and bohemians living in Bywater. We stayed in a Bed & Breakfast there, which was a brilliant way of staying in town and at the same time be in touch with it. Our host, Pamela, is a published writer and play write and theater director, with a past in law, medicine and corporate work. She is now doing something she really loves, which is to run this B&B with it’s four guest rooms. The place is literally covered in art of all kinds and with a sizable library and the knowledge of the host, we were not lacking in information. It’s worth mentioning that A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’ play, gets it’s name from the end destination located in Bywater.

The French Quarter is, as mentioned, the most famous part of town, and is regarded as the center. It borders Canal Street on the west side, and Canal Street is how they relate North and South in the city, even though it does not run East-West. Another thing these people do in their own little way. Our first encounter with the Quarter was on Sunday, when the Saints were playing the  Chicago Bears. We had been recommended to see the game on Bourbon Street, so we did. This street is the most famous street in the most famous part of town, for all the wrong reasons. In Europe we have Ibiza, in the US they have Bourbon Street. It’s a long line of bars, open 24/7, where they serve big drinks from slush machines. It’s a place where people go to behave as they think they’re supposed to, and it’s as unattractive as any party can be. But, when the Saints played it was noon, and there was a good mix between Saints and Bears fans in the bars. The first bar we found was okay, but we hadn’t registered the 3-for-1 deal that so many of these bars have. I ordered an Abita Amber (the beer in NOLA) and Heleen a Jack and Coke. Well, I got three bottles and she got a massive cup with the equivalent of three strong drinks in it. It went down, though, and as the second quarter was over we decided to walk off some of the buzz. We then found the Old Absinthe House, a legendary bar that has been frequented by people like Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain back in the day. It looked old and faded too, but in the good way. The staff was friendly and a bit old fashioned, and it was the perfect place to try the famed Sazerac and the Absinthe Frappé. Here we also met Bob, an Airforce helicopter pilot with low self control, who had resisted visiting NOLA for his whole life. Now, though, he thought he had enough control to pull it off, so he came in for the weekend.

The first black neighborhood in the history of USA was Treme. It is still mainly black, and it has a vibe all of it’s own. In the 80s it was so bad here that the second lines started dying out, and the jazz funerals were renamed crack funerals. Since then local forces have managed to bring back the original culture and it is now, though far from safe, a good neighborhood. We walked through the area on our last day there and the colourful houses wooden houses, some in good condition, some almost falling over, have a charm of their own. All of New Orleans carries this charm, but some places it works better than others.

Algiers, across the Mississippi is where the slaves were brought in back in the day. There is a free ferry going over there, and when the possibility of actually sailing the river is there, it has to be taken. It’s only about five minutes, and the breeze did us well on a hot and humid day. We didn’t really do much on the other side except have lunch, but it was a good place to stay for an hour.

Back to the French Quarter, we visited it quite a few times but stayed off Bourbon Street. Decatur Street and Chartres Street brought us many cool stores, a little less touristy and a little more genuine. Heleen bought awesome shoes for $25 (autumn sale… ?!) and I got myself my first Goorin Bros. hat. My hat says ass, it has a picture of one too. Go figure. We also visited some brilliant eateries, but that’s for later.

Magazine Street is also a great shopping street. We visited Mignon Faget’s store, went to a couple of rummage stores (jeans for $6, good looking ring for $6, nice shirt for $18) and visited a couple of jewelry and t-shirt stores.

We didn’t manage to squeeze in a visit to the Lower Ninth, that’s definitely something for next time. Though it’s been six years since Katrina, and even though Make It Right and other organizations have put a lot of effort into it, the district is still far from the population numbers it had before the storm. This was the area that was hit the hardest, and it seems they will need a lot more time before they can get back on their feet, but knowing the NOLA spirit, they will get there.

Los Angeles – New Orleans

Posted in Uncategorized on 20.09.2011 by RoadWorks

Too busy just being here to write much, but here are some impressions from the train journey from LA to NOLA.

Double decker trains give you superior view.

Lots of space, cool temperature, power outlets and big windows, perfect.

The desert looks awesome in all it’s different dresses.

You have to jump a 25 feet tall fence to get into the US from Mexico. At least in El Paso.

Sushi is nice.

Met an Australian girl who had traveled for the last four years. Her first stay in the US, a week in LA, was a massive eye opener for her. We had a very good conversation, she was a lot more grounded and open than our preacher friend in the seat in front of us.

Preacher friend was an interesting conversation partner, but he already had the universal answers so no need discussing. He knew his music, knows the world and has traveled extensively for a long time, but he’s missing the mental freedom to understand what he himself is talking about. Preacher friend was still nice companionship, though.

Elton from New Orleans was as cool as anyone else in this town. In his late 60s, seemingly a grumpy old white man, he had stories and insight and our accidental encounter on the lower deck turned out to be a long talk about NOLA, Europe and the state of the world.

A boy asked his parents what the time was. “It’s 6 o’ clock, but what does it matter to you, you’re just five years old, you don’t have a concept of time”. Charming. The boy was clearly already surpassing his parents intelectually.

I recently saw vultures in the zoo. Now I’ve seen them in abundance in the wild. They look mean.

Someone had a stroke on the train. The daughter in the mother/daughter combo behind us is a nurse, so she helped out until an ambulance could come. We stood still for an hour, but fortunately along the road so it was easy to transport the diseased away.

A freight train derailed and broke in half ahead of us. We lost 5 hours on that, so upon entering Louisiana we were 6 hours delayed. We made up one hour, so we arrived in New Orleans after 51 hours on the tracks.

I want to travel the US by train again, do Chicago – Memphis – New Orleans next. This continent deserves that much time.

At dawn in Downtown LA.

Posted in Uncategorized on 14.09.2011 by RoadWorks

Too hot, couldn’t sleep.

The taste of the Pacific

Posted in Uncategorized on 13.09.2011 by RoadWorks

This should be a long post, I have so many images, memories, people and things happening stored in my brain, but it’s such a blur that I don’t know what’s gonna come out and what’s gonna get lost in the maze of my travel worn brain. We’ll see where we end up. Dr. John will be my companion as I write.

This post will cover my whole Californian experience up ‘til now. Shows in San Francisco, Hollywood and Ramona, and the following two days we’ve stayed in A. I could write a major essay on these days, and let me get this out of the way already: I love California.

We start our adventure travelling from Portland to San Francisco. You’ve seen these landscapes on TV many times, and I have travelled through Spain several times, with it’s similar but less impressive hills and fields. The view switched between large fields of corn, sunflowers and oranges, and more desert like hills. As we cruised through the mountains the temperature reached 99 F, which in Celsius would be around 37 degrees. Getting down towards San Francisco the temperature dropped rapidly and all of a sudden it was 66 F, a cool 20 C.

We drove past the Bay Area, where our teenage heroes in Metallica, Slayer, and the rest of the thrash scene originate from. We crossed the bridge and entered the city. The first impression was that it was cleaner and tidier than any other major US city we had visited up to that point. The air felt fresh and clean, but the temperature might have tricked us there. We arrived at the venue, a pub/club, one of the smallest of the tour. A late load-in (19:00, as opposed to the normal 15:00) meant that we had some time to kill, and after first considering following one of the touring party to Cliff Burton’s childhood home, we instead decided to go check out the Anchor Brewery, located 300 meters away. I used to drink several of their nice dark beers at De Beugel when I lived in Arnhem, and it’s proximity meant a chance to get some merchandise. Unfortunately there was no brewery store attached to the main area, only the brewery itself, but we soon forgot about that, as we started climbing up the steep Frisco streets, up Hope Avenue. Every block of climbing the view got more impressive, and as we reached the top we could see most of the San Francisco area just by turning our heads.

Some of these hills are so steep that the first floor of one house is level with the basement of the next. We saw a guy biking uphill. He must be have lost his mind from the lack of oxygen up there. The architecture was very cool, much less homogenic than what we’ve seen in the rest of the country. The vegetation was maybe even more impressive, with a large collection of different palm trees, strangely flowered trees and bushes in all different shapes, colours and sizes. I loved it up there, and I fell in love with California and San Francisco at this point.

The venue, as already mentioned, was small and not really equipped for the show we were bringing. But it turned into a very energetic and intense show, as it tends to be in these smaller venues. Little space means people are packed together, and our punk attitude comes out stronger when things aren’t absolutely ideal. Great fun and great response from the attendees. We talked to a lot of people afterwards, some of which didn’t know about us but had been told by friends attending our earlier shows that they had to check us out. There was even a Norwegian guy there, a Halling (from Geilo) who had lived in the city since 1995. As we say to the extent that it becomes a cliché, the world is small.

Onwards to Los Angeles, the home of the famous, the beautiful, the rich and everything that is wrong with rock n’ roll. Passing by the Hollywood Bowl (I grew up watching Monty Python’s show there many, many times), the Chinese Theatre and the Walk Of Fame, our bus made it’s way to the venue. Our show was at Whisky A-Go-Go, and for those who do not know this venue, it can justifiably be called one of the most legendary and important music venues in the world. This is where Metallica saw Cliff Burton for the first time. It’s where The Doors, the Sunday night house band at the time, wrote the epic The End. A venue that gave valuable stage time to young up and coming bands like WASP, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses and many more. It’s easier to mention the legendary bands who never played there than the opposite. But however legendary the venue, it doesn’t matter if you can’t show up, pull in the people, and give them one hell of a show.

We’ll get to that soon. But first we had an afternoon to kill. I started the day with a Dogfish Head beer, and then Heleen and I went looking around a bit, but Sunset Boulevard is not as cool as they want you to believe. So we stopped by a liquor store and bought some good bourbon (Woodford Reserve) and some Kahlua B-52 and White Russian pre-mixes. The bourbon is brilliant and the pre-mixes surprisingly awesome, these served us well later on. Straight on to the Rainbow, most famous as where people come to have their picture taken with Lemmy, and as we were in pretend rock star mode, we had breakfast there. Jack and Coke for both, and Heleen ate a (massive) salad while I had their breakfast burrito. Their portions are huge, there were many a plate standing around with leftovers. Our TM Chris (from now on only known by his actual name, Milkshake) and the Necronomicon guys came to join us, as did our driver Jim. A nice start to the day.

The rumours of the Whisky being a venue with a large name but a shitty interior were vastly exaggerated. Everything was good there, possibly the best venue of the tour. The head of production for the day, Geoff (to some known from Christ Versus Warhol), was a true professional with a great attitude, the local staff and security were all focused, the backstage was good, the sound on stage and in the room was brilliant and as doors opened and waited through 5 (!) local support acts the room filled up, reaching a crowd bigger than on any other night of the tour. The room was quite packed once we walked on, and this turned out to be one of the best shows we have ever played. It’s easy to be on fire when the atmosphere is right, but that wasn’t the reason. We have played great shows every night, even in shitty Regina where only 60 people showed up, or in Kelowna where the stage sound was so poor that it would have better to be deaf and mime the whole thing. I am lucky to play with one of the best front men in extreme music, and with two solid string benders who walk on stage with the utmost confidence every night. Myself I have never played consistently as good as I have through this whole tour, and therefore we reached a peak once we got to LA, we are in the shape of our career as a band. To do a show like that in front of such a hungry crowd is awesome, it is something you can feed off of in the difficult and static periods of time when you don’t play live.

I went to Subway next door for some food at some point and the guy behind the counter was so stressed because there were so many people at the show and they didn’t have time to do anything but make subs all night. The weekend before there had been two shows with some pretty big bands and he had just been sitting there on his hands, with very little to do, such was the attendance. So it feels good to have had such an impact in such an area.

So the show is over, you’ve loaded out and packed the bus, you’re in the party street in the party area of Hollywood. Let’s go get a drink! No? They close at 2:00? Two?! Here?! ?

Just like in the movies, it’s all phony.

Last day, the show was moved from San Diego to the nearby small town of Ramona. I walk out of the bus and there’s a hearse and an RV parked outside. Next door is a garage with a massive treasure (more on that later), and soon a white limo comes to pick up the bartender as he is getting married. They like their cars here, as proven by the several Mustangs on display later on.

The venue is also here in a pub with a stage, a strange venue but spacious enough. A pre-sale of 70 tickets is promising, and the door sales turn out good too. The day is spent discussing finances, we discover that we have been charged for six days of nothing, and the driver discovers that the company he has been hired by for the tour, has scammed him as much as they have us. Our deal is for the tour until the drop-off at the airport but the driver had been told to leave us at the venue. Until 4 in the morning we don’t even know if we will get to the airport, but the driver decides to help us out, good guy as he is, and we all get to where we are supposed to be.

It’s yet another day on the tour being spent focusing on unnecessary bullshit that should never have been an issue, and Celebrity Coaches do not come out of the picture looking good, that’s for sure. But in the middle of some serious discussing both Chris and I stop mid-sentence. A DeLorean drives past us and parks in the garage next door. Upon closer inspection it is the DeLorean, the one from Back To The Future I, and as the driver explains, a clone of the actual car used in the movie, this one being used at movie conventions across the country. It lights up in all the right places and he even has the metal glasses to go with it. Many of the guys are taking driver up on the offer of checking out the driver’s seat, and many a photo is snapped. Awesome!

The show is so-so, the energy has been drained out of many of us, but we still end with our heads high. The mood isn’t really there for the end-of-tour jokes that tend to appear, but we do play Blame Canada over the PA during Necronomicon’s set and they try (and fail) to ruin one of our songs by doing Chewbacca impressions during Altergang. For Vreid’s show I donate my playing shirt as stage decoration and I make sure that Jørn has nothing to drink behind the kit but six cans of Squirt. He drinks a litre in total, ruining his digestive system for some time. My work has been done.

The aftermath of the show is a circus of it’s own, the before mentioned aforementioned bartender and his new wife have their afterparty in the bar, and their friends are there to amuse us, flash us, hand out hugs and impress us with their Norwegian skills (“Velkommen”, that’s about it). We take our tour photo, say our goodbyes and pass out hugs left and right before the three bands head in three different directions.

This tour has been a massive success for us. I already have new offers on the table and the feedback has been fantastic from day one. We are used to good feedback, or else we couldn’t be doing this, but what we have received on this tour is a new high. I have met so many good people, like the kid in Toronto who had made me personalized drumsticks, the staff in Regina who gave us so much fresh fruit that I nearly overdosed on vitamins, the production chief at the Whisky, the couple who travelled from El Salvador to see us, the guys in Cleveland who drove 16 hours to see us once the New York show got cancelled, the boys from Silver Skull (taking talent and promise to a new plateau), Milkshake’s wife Cristina, and many more. I have seen so many interesting places, so much beauty, so much ugliness, so many contrasts, I have seen human beings at their best and their worst and everything in between. And still we’re only halfway through our journey.

So we arrive at the airport, I haven’t slept, Heleen’s slept two hours. We hang out for a few hours, the Kampfar guys are just waiting for their flight anyway. I manage an hour of shut-eye, and after enough time has passed we can finally go to downtown to check in. We’re staying at the Stay Hotel, which is actually more like a hostel, but a nice place it is. We had to go by bus and two metro lines to get here, and then lug the luggage through the streets, miss the hotel and then walk back, but once we were in place everything was good. We headed straight out again, or else we would collapse, so we got some drinks, some dinner, ate, showered and crashed. Didn’t really sleep before late but we got a good night’s sleep, finally. I have slept pretty well on the tour but Heleen has struggled. Long work nights, a bad pillow, an at times inhumanly hot bus (three ACs, not one second did all three work at the same time) made it hard for her but she sported her trademark wide smile most days.

Monday, and we get up after breakfast, but we barely feel hungry most of the time, so no problem. We take some time getting going, I google the town and find out the Grand Central Market is close by. We have seen this on Globetrekker and it is well worth a visit. It’s a massive food court that serves both prepared food and drinks, as well as ingredients for whatever your heart may desire. We get coffees, and a 200 ml bottle of Old Crow Bourbon, and I have to try the $2,50 shrimp taco. Brilliant! Next on we stop by Macy’s for some bikini shopping (no luck, it’s after season… It’s always season here, no?) and come across a juice place that makes one of the best smoothies I’ve had, a pineapple, banana and coconut one. Heleen gets a strawberry bomb, sweet but nice.

We get on the metro, going back the same route as we came in with the day before. Blue line first, change at Rosa Parks Station, take the green line to the beach. Or so I thought. First of all, we get off the train and I miscalculate west and north. I have done this once before on the tour, something I almost never do, and it feels shitty again. We end up doing a large half lap before I realize and we need to find our way back. More walking, but we’re back to status quo. At least we had three seconds of fun with the Bump sign. We then head towards the beach, thinking it’s just over that top ahead. 50 minutes of walking and three tops later we finally see the Pacific ocean. I have dreamt of this for so many years, I love the ocean and this is one of the two big ones, but I have never touched it. Finally I am in it and we spend a good half hour swimming into waves and floating around, forgetting about anything negative we have felt for the last three weeks. This cleans the mind, it reminds me of how much I miss living by the ocean and why I have to get back there.

I see something looking like a dog’s head about ten meters away, but dogs aren’t allowed on the beach or in the water, so I wonder if something is wrong. A few seconds later I see the back of a dark body and then the flippers of what turns out to be a seal ducking under.

We sit around for a while, making room in the Old Crow bottle so we can bring sand back home, then ask the lifeguard for bus routes so we don’t have to walk all the way back to the metro station. The lifeguard is a quarter Norwegian (everybody has a cousin in Gjøvik, they always say), and has visited Arnhem a while back. He does not wear a red bikini, he does not have massive boobs, and to my massive disappointment is not in any way David Hasselhoff. But he tells us there is a bus and we soon get on it, get on the metro and head back to Downtown.

We walk through a film set (or TV production) on the sidewalk, as matter-of-factly set up as you would only find here, get ourselves some dinner to take back to the hotel room, and then I sit down and write this.

Tomorrow is laundry day, shopping day, scouting day and maybe, if time allows, swimming day. All of it together with the best travelling partner I could have. This travelling business is getting addictive.