New York Audioblogs

Brooke and I got home last night from four days in New York City. While Brooke attended the Origami USA annual convention, I was free to wander the city and get into mischief. The weather was incredibly hot and humid and there were unpredictable and wild storms on both Saturday and Sunday. Since I had my Edirol R-09 digital recorder with me, I decided to record my thoughts instead of trying to keep a written blog. Forgive the rambling nature of these, but I thought it might be an interesting way to document my time there.

Saturday June 28, 2008

Episode 1: McCarren Park, Brooklyn

Duration: 7:58

Episode 2: McCarren Park, Brooklyn (after my tour of the Brooklyn Brewery)

Duration: 2:52

Episode 3: Hotel Kitano, Manhattan

Duration: 1:57

Sunday June 29, 2008

Episode 4: Hotel Kitano, Manhattan (morning, before almost drowning at the Pride Parade)

Duration: 2:55

I meant to record a few more episodes, especially since my experience on Sunday was so crazy. I walked out to Fifth Avenue to catch the Pride Parade and ended up following it all the way down to Christopher Street, about 40 blocks. Just as I got there, the heavens opened and without an umbrella, I was drenched. The rain didn’t let up for more than an hour so it kind of put a damper on some of the specators, though to their credit, the parade marchers kept up appearances. Well, except when the storm first broke and the parade stopped. I’ll never forget the sight of four drag queens huddled under a tiny umbrella trying to keep their wigs dry. Later, as I made my way back uptown, I tried to huddle under various awnings with hundreds of others. It was interesting sharing a bit of shelter with a group of soggy drag queens! By the time I got back to my hotel, my shoes, pants and shirt were waterlogged and I even had to spread all my paper money out to dry. Luckily the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain was on TV so I wrapped myself up in a robe and watched that.

Later, instead of going out to see a comedian (Eddie Izzard’s show was sold out, and Brooke doesn’t know Patton Oswalt at all), we just decided to see Pixar’s new film, Wall-E. First we ate at Empanada Mama, somewhere we discovered on our last visit in January. Delicious, reasonable and a short walk from the cinema which was on 42nd St.

On Monday, I met up with filmmaker Aaron Katz for breakfast (I’d met him the previous weekend in Toronto when he was here for Generation DIY) at Junior’s in Brooklyn and then went to the IFC Center to see Daisuke Tengan’s film The Most Beautiful Night in the World, screening as part of the New York Asian Film Festival. After that, a quick stop at Italian Wine Merchants to pick up few bottles from my favourite Slovenian wine producer (Movia) and then back to the hotel to meet Brooke and catch our shuttle bus to the airport.

Another great trip, and I’m still only just discovering what this amazing city has to offer.

Oh yeah, pictures are up on Flickr. Fair warning: lots of origami models.

Vicarious Road Trip

I’m barely 40 pages into Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live and I’m already feeling jealous. Not of his talent for comic writing, though he has plenty of that. I’m feeling strangely jealous that I’ve never been able to go on a solo road trip with 600 CDs like he’s doing. You see, I’ve never had a driver’s licence. 99% of the time, it’s no big deal at all. Well, more like 80% of the time. When my wife and I do occasionally need to drive, we either rent a car or borrow my Dad’s or her Mum’s, and Brooke does the driving. I know she resents it a bit (okay, maybe a lot), but at this stage I really think it might be too late for me to learn.

I did know how, once. Just like every other kid, I signed up for the driver education classes at my high school and did perfectly well. Except for one thing. It was probably at my very last lesson when my driving instructor advised me not to book my test appointment until I practiced my parallel parking. A lot. At this point in the story, my memory gets a bit foggy (this is, after all, now more than 25 years ago). I did NOT practice my parallel parking. In fact, I got a bit annoyed with his advice. And when it came down to it, I guess I just didn’t care enough. All of my friends were getting licences, and some of them were even buying cars. I was happy, like Iggy, to be the Passenger. Until now.

It’s not that Klosterman has made me crave the experience of actually driving thousands of miles. The physical and mental effort of keeping the car safely between the lines and away from the cars in front and behind strikes me as exhausting. But there’s just something about the particular kind of solitude with musical accompaniment a “road trip” offers that a bus journey with an iPod just can’t match.

Even if I were to practice my parallel parking, after all this time, and successfully obtain my driving licence, I doubt very much whether I’d be able to take off on my own with a trunk full of music. I suspect that there would be some marital payback which would involve me doing every single bit of driving for the next ten years, and beyond. And as a much older new driver, I could never build up the self-confidence that would let me roll down the window and rest one arm on the doorframe. Instead of the freedom that I have in mind, more likely I’d be squinting at highway exit signs, nervously changing lanes and trying not to fall asleep behind the wheel.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll get back to my vicarious road trip now. At least when I start to get sleepy, I can just put the book down and go to bed.

SXSW 2008: Social Networking Indeed

I’m here in Austin for my eighth consecutive South by Southwest Interactive conference. I’ve come to look at this week as an essential creative reboot each year. The weather in Toronto combined with the months of near darkness always leave me drained in inspiration. And then I come to Texas and spend a week with a few thousand of my closest friends.

I didn’t plan well this year. And work got crazy. And I foolishly solicited SXSW filmmakers to send me screeners. So the leadup to this year’s conference was a flurry of late nights and trying to compile a super-calendar of Interactive, Film and Music events. Now that I’m here, it’s clear that I just can’t do it all.

In fact, my normal “shy extravert” personality has taken a hit and I am finding myself cocooning in my hotel room, which is unusual for me. I think part of it might be that I’m a bit nervous about trying to meet new people (ie. Film people). On the one hand, I’m a lazy man and don’t mind hanging around with my old Interactive tribe. But I feel like I might be missing an opportunity to learn something new and talk about another of my favourite things with like-minded people. But I’m also afraid of being embraced by the Film people and then missing out on all the stuff I’ve come to love about the Interactive conference. This conflict over different social choices as well as scheduling options has left me even more paralyzed than usual. And I don’t like feeling like this.

I’m hoping that staying a few days extra to see free Music day shows and hang around with my Austin pals will sort me out. I’ll post an update in a few days.

I Love New York, Seriously

For someone who considers himself a seasoned traveler and informed citizen of the world, I’ve always been a bit embarrassed that New York City wasn’t really on my list of places visited. My parents had taken me a few times when I was a young sprog, but I have no memories of the city, only the stuff I’ve seen in movies or read in books. It seemed crazy to me that I hadn’t visited, until you figure out how expensive it is to fly anywhere in the U.S. from Canada. Though New York is only about an hour’s flight from Toronto, it’s at least a $500 ticket. Since New York is also incredibly expensive in general, I’ve usually saved my dollars for visits to some of my other favourite American cities (Austin, Chicago, San Francisco) instead. But a few months ago, my lovely wife Brooke surprised me with tickets, and we just spent a fantastic three-day weekend in mythical Gotham.

After hearing about New York my entire life, I was happy and relieved to say that within an hour of arriving, I felt like I “got” the city. I felt at home and comfortable, which was unusual. American cities usually feel different to me, and it normally takes me about a day to settle in. I was also surprised that New York actually felt small to me. Not literally, because we only really got to see a small patch of midtown on our trip, but I guess I mean it felt manageable. We found that we could walk almost anywhere we wanted to go in just a few minutes, and if we needed to jump on the subway, we normally only had a ride of a few stops. I’m also a bit proud that I grasped the subway almost right away. Our subway in Toronto is much more basic, but I’m a transit user, so it was fun to figure out a more ambitious system.

Most delightful of all was the feeling that I actually knew people in this vast and hitherto-unexplored metropolis. When Brooke mentioned she’d like to tour the New York Times, I emailed Khoi Vinh, the design director of their web site, to see if any were offered. He graciously offered to show us around, himself, on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, we arranged to meet newly-engaged Dan Budiac and Kathryn Yu for brunch. And then while browsing in the 14th Street Apple Store, we serendipitously bumped into Anil Dash and his wife Alaina Browne. On this weekend, the big, intimidating city felt more like a village to us.

It helped a lot that we stayed at the wonderful Chelsea Lodge, a quiet, comfy and affordable haven on a quiet residential street. We ate two delicious breakfasts at the nearby Empire Diner on Tenth Avenue, where we overheard a number of great conversations, including the subject of a Men’s Vogue cover story reading the story to his group of friends. Our other breakfast was at the wonderful Pastis, in the revitalized Meatpacking District. It’s said to be a celebrity hangout, and we did spot Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange and their daughter having breakfast just before we left. While we’re on the theme of food, we also enjoyed great and unfussy food at Empanada Mama and the “Burger Joint” hidden in the luxe Parker-Meridien Hotel.

Other highlights of our whirlwind trip include:

By Sunday we were pretty wiped, and the only vaguely stressful things that we encountered were:

  • looking for a Starbucks near Times Square that had somewhere to sit down, just after all the theatre matinees let out.
  • trying to bring a special bottle of wine back through security in my carry-on bag and being forced to leave it there—no liquids allowed, even in sealed bottles.

For anyone interested, I’ll post a link to our photos when I get them posted to Flickr.

New York, I will be back soon!

Viva Cuba

Cuban flag
Originally uploaded by Patrick Dinnen

Brooke and I are off early tomorrow morning for eight days in Havana. We’ve never been to Cuba before and thought we should go now before it all changes. We’re not beach people, so we didn’t care about staying at a resort where we wouldn’t be able to meet Cuban people or see what their lives are like. Instead, we’re staying at a casa particular, a kind of Cuban version of a bed and breakfast. After reading raves about them on, we’ve decided to stay with Ana and Pepe in the Vedado neighbourhood of the city. Though they do have internet access, don’t expect me to tie it up posting to Flickr. But when we get back, I’ll likely be posting like a fiend. Wish us safe travels, everyone, and we’ll raise a mojito for you!

By the way, Viva Cuba is actually a very charming recent film from filmmaker Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti. I reviewed it over on Toronto Screen Shots.