Hola! Como estas? Bien, gracias!
And that is all I know.
This edition of the travelogue sees our intrepid traveller leaving her volcanic perch in Guatemala for the pacific coast of Mexico. The bus trip from Guatemala to Mexico was perhaps made a lot more unpleasant by the fact it was undertaken with a sizeable hangover, 2 hours sleep and a man who sat in front of me the whole 12 hours with a large open, weeping sore on the back of his head.
Guatemala proved much more interesting than I anticipated so I stayed for longer than I planned. It seems to be the case for many of the ex-pats I’ve met, they intended to stay for a week and decades later they’re still here, somewhat more leathery than they started. Of course a lot of these expats are also acid refugees from the seventies, so it’s possible that they’re actually unaware of how much time has passed anyway. In that way it’s kind of like Narnia, but inhabited with tiny colourful people constantly trying to sell you traditionally woven coin purses and tacos.
Because Guatemalans are tiny! It seems like the whole country is bordering on five foot nothing. Sometimes I feel like Dorothy in the Land of Oz, afraid I might kick or stomp on one accidentally if I have a lapse in concentration.
I spent some time in Monte Ricco on the coast, which has a black sand beach because of the volcanic ash. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible for me to look ANY whiter at the beach they go and make the bloody sand black! The luminous glow of my translucent skin could have guided ships home at night. It was incredibly hot there and home to some of the most aggressive mosquitoes that I’ve ever encountered.
Now there are some people who cope well in the tropics and I, as I think we have firmly established by now, am definitely not one of them. Instead of the oppressive heat turning these people into lumpy, slow moving, tomato-faced things, they instead glow with a dewy freshness, wafting about elegantly in cheesecloth attire and looking peaceful and invigorated.
This kind of tropical tranquility is simply beyond me. As I was writing this a bug flew into my eye and died. Case and point.
But it also seems that Guatemala attracts a stranger type of traveller. Of course there’s scores of lithe Israelies around and more dreadlocks than you can poke a stick at (because you should never touch them with your bare hands). I met a raw foodist from Iceland who had a freehand tattoo of Bob Marley on his forearm and if I hear anymore ambient reggae I’m going to scoop out my eardrums with a spoon.
But I also encountered perhaps the weirdest person of the trip so far, an American called Kevin. Kevin had a facial tick that made his jaw roll around like he was a cow chewing cud and refused or perhaps was incapable of pronouncing the ‘t’ in Guatemala, instead inexplicably replacing it with an ‘L’. He grew up in Statten Island, New York so had a tough Italian/American accent. He looked like the kind of guy who could play ‘mob guy who cuts little finger off witness during questioning and then murders them in cold blood’ perfectly.
Think Anthony La Paglia but really really mean- or Alec Baldwin’s character in Working Girl but really really mean. Kevin proceeded to tell me about every single fight he’d ever been in, his extensive gun collection, his crazy Mexican ex-girlfriend (let me tell ya, I could write a fuckin’ book!) and that you can judge a woman by the quality of her customer service skills- with white American women being the worst and African American women being the best.
Second prize goes to an American woman who looked like she’d watched every season of Buffy several times and wrote borderline incest erotica for a living.
So it seems that Guatemala is where all the eccentric Americans end up. Maybe there’s some kind of test they issue in the states and if you fail it you get deported… It’s funny, sometimes the world feels like a giant office christmas party- just because we’re all here together in the same place doesn’t mean we have anything in common or should necessarily talk to one another.
Other things have included:
Muchos frijoles, tocino, tortilla, huevos, tacos, pollo, ensalada y papas fritas
The fact that I am suffering from severe Mexican hayfever
My hair keeping me constantly guessing as to what it’s going to do next- like a good friend with a personality disorder
And that’s about it folks. I will try to write a Mexican edition before I come home in TWO WEEKS! But if not you will have to hear about stuff that happened IN PERSON!
So, when last we spoke I was trying to save my underpants from a terrier called Ziggy. Unfortunately I lost out on that front, sacrificing several more pairs to his anthropomorphic appetites before departing chilly Chi-Town for the volcanic tropics of Guatemala.
I am currently firmly installed in a hammock at a place called ‘Earth Lodge’, a cheesecloth vortex in the hills into which I have been briefly sucked. I am passing the time by weaving reeds into baskets, aligning my chakras and drinking cheap local beer.
Only one of those things is true.
My last few weeks in Chicago were a blur of classes, interning, budgets, assignments and things containing peanut butter that should not contain peanut butter. A note to any Americans who may be reading this, you guys need to CALM DOWN with the peanut butter in everything. Seriously.
Classes at the Second City were great overall, with perhaps the exception of my writing subject. Having changed into a different class after my stunning public transport faux pas with my previous teacher, I somehow ended up worse off than I started.
My new writing teacher was the most confusingly gay straight man I’ve ever met. Here’s a man who talked often of his wife and kids, yet had an extensive knowledge of and breathlessly declared affection for parlour games and a notebook containing pictures of Full House heart throb Jon Stamos.
This was the same teacher who told me that ‘confusion kills comedy’ and to make my work ‘broader’ so as to be more appealing and obvious to the audience. *sigh*
Other inhabitants included a man in his mid-thirties who wore a t-shirt that said ‘skate and destroy‘ and a pimply adolescent who only pitched scenes containing madcap drug adventures or thinly veiled plot rip-offs of teen dance movies. Another man-child proclaimed himself pro-feminist by writing a ‘comedy’ sketch about a waitress with extensive sports knowledge. Progressive right?
Unfortunately said ‘sketch’ concluded with the male protagonist summing up his opinion of women in the service industry encroaching on sports talk by uttering the line: ‘why don’t you shut the fuck up you stupid bitch and get me another beer?’
In short, I witnessed more homophobic, racist and sexist jokes than I have ever heard in my life- and I grew up in country Victoria.
In clown class (yes clown class) I tried to grow and shrink my body in accordance with my breath intake, performed solo ‘eccentric dances’ and worried that upon my return to Oz, I’ll be part of a Today Tonight expose about the use of Australian tax payer dollars for arts funding.
My improv teacher was a lovely man with David Hasselhoff’s Baywatch hairdo, who seemed to have survived his entire life thus far possessing absolutely no self awareness whatsoever. He insisted we give ourselves a round of applause after each exercise- whilst moving his clapping hands around in a circle. Our warm up stretches were accompanied by an inexplicable southern accent (‘Because when I do shoulder rolls I’m southern!) but his boundless enthusiasm for his subject and pure guilelessness melted even my cynical heart.
Other highlights of the past month and a half include:
- Becoming briefly obsessed with The Hunger Games trilogy (Do it! It’s totally worth the hype!)
- Studying and performing with The Neo Futurists, my new theatre crushes
- Going on a private tour of the WBEZ radio station and holding Ira Glass’ Emmy. It was so big and intellectual…
- Learning that ‘thick’ is a way to describe round, larger, curvy girls who are attractive to black men
- And finally reading Twilight (yes I’ve decided this is my teen fiction tour) and becoming increasingly worried that an entire generation of teenaged girls will think that true love involves someone sneaking into your without your knowledge or permission and watching you sleep
I gave up my fight against american food and instead decided to embrace the local cuisine with wide open, artery clogged arms. This was in the hopes that I’d contract some kind of mild, non-life threatening form of dysentery upon my arrival in Central America. So far, no such bug has been forthcoming and walking up slight inclines is proving much more difficult that it used to be.
This might have something to do with the fact that I ate more pork in the states than is strictly necessary for one person in one life time. On one occasion I even invoked the ‘meat sweats’. For those of you who have never had the the pleasure, the ‘meat sweats’ is a protein induced condition that involves a substantial amount of perspiration, relevant to the amount of meat ingested, leeching out of your pores for about the next 8 hours. Of course it also makes you incredibly attractive to the opposite sex.
And that brings us up to the present. I have a few more weeks and then back to Oz to see all your lovely faces!
With all my sweaty best,
Apologies for my absence from your screens, it’s hard to believe, but I have been in Chicago for four weeks now and a lot of my day to day energy goes into explaining how to pronounce my name.
It’s genuinely confounding for people and I’ve become used to the flash of bewilderment and panic that accompanies my introduction. Apparently there are no Welsh people in the states because explaining that Bron is short for Bronwyn sheds no light on the situation. If anything, it makes things worse, because now there’s not only one incomprehensible name to deal with but two. And those who can say it do so with kind of a twang, as if it’s spelt Braun. Like the razor.
Oh well, if the general linguistic slaughter of my celtic namesake is the biggest daily challenge I’m facing then I daresay things are going to be alright. At least I’ve conquered the doors- although I did get jammed in a revolving one the other day after neglecting to observe the (now) patently obvious rule of one person per compartment.
I’ve started interning at a theatre company here and have ended up working quite closely with one of the artistic directors.
They’re in the midst of production for their annual fundraising event, a VIP party called ‘Lunatique’. Every time this name is uttered in the office I hear Ben Stiller’s voice saying ‘Derelicte’ in my brain. And it’s uttered a lot.
Apparently this is THE party to go to in Chicago and my task is tracking down an inflatable air mat for an insane idea that involves encouraging semi-drunk party guests to hurl themselves off a 15 foot precipice inside the warehouse venue. I think I am responsible for this part of the production so that they can outsource the blame, making me a kind of theatrical patsy for impending lawsuits from party guests who will inevitably cause themselves grievous bodily harm when the fun goes awry and the bloody carnage begins.
I’m also working on their youth spectacle which involves sourcing props and materials and documenting all the students involved in the project. I went to a middle school to take photos of about a hundred and seventy kids last week. One of boys was mucking around and pulling faces and I said, ‘OK, why don’t we take a normal picture now’ before instantly realising some of the kids in that class were special needs. Nice one Braun.
I’ve also started classes at the Neo Futurists and The Second City and as I’m meeting heaps of people on a regular basis I’m trading off being the novelty Australian. I’ve found that a thumbs up and a well timed ‘g’day’ normally does the trick, although I did that to a group of college students the other day and they all simultaneously exclaimed in wonder, as if they’d been shown a real life mermaid.
I’ve also devised a litmus test that immediately identifies douchebags. It’s really simple. How it works is if, when you introduce yourself and where you’re from, they say something cliched about Australia in a shit accent. Like ‘Let’s throw another shrimp on the barbie’ or ‘g’day mate’ or ‘kangaroo’. So far it’s been pretty much full proof.
Classes have so far been pretty ace on the whole. Although I am discovering that it’s pretty hard to take a comedy class from someone who you don’t think is funny. Social faux pas number two for the week came when I was on the bus and (loudly) divulging this fact to someone in my class when I realised said teacher was standing. Right. BEHIND. ME.
So I have changed classes. There is no recovery from that…
The karmic retribution comes from the fact that he is a stand up. Albeit an average one- it’s true, ask me for his name and you can youtube him yourself- so this incident will surely end up in his set. That will learn me for never changing peoples names when I talk about them onstage. But on the bright side, he might get some good material out of it…!
Apart from being and doing generally crippling embarrassing things, I am living in a suburb called Wicker Park with two american girls and a scruffy little sexually deviant terrier called Ziggy (last name Stardust) with a penchant for women’s underwear. It’s true, if you leave the door to your room open he will come in and steal a pair, play with it for a while and then leave it somewhere around the apartment. I came home the other day and he had chewed the crotch out of one of my pairs. I’m telling you, he’s a dirty little pervert. And he’s discerning- because they used to have a male roommate and Ziggy wouldn’t go near his undies with a 10 foot pole.
All my very best love,
I write this from a speeding train somewhere between New York and Chicago. I am taking a leisurely 19 hour train trip because the thought of getting on another plane does my head in. Unfortunately, all of the other neurotics who don’t like to fly are also on this train, so therefore there are some very strange people occupying this carriage.
For example, I accidentally caught the eye of a proper mountain hillbilly/80’s serial killer type on my way to the toilet who stared back at me for a much longer time than was strictly necessary or indeed polite and I just turned around to see that he has switched seats to OCCUPY THE VACANT SEAT BEHIND ME. So if you are reading this it means that he hasn’t slaughtered me in me my sleep. Either that or someone was going through my personal effects and has published this travelogue posthumously.
So, New York! After a delightful stay in Greenpoint, I accidentally, without double checking my facts on the interweb, booked a room in what only can be described as a frat boy house/back packer slum, disgusting, dirty smelly shithole. So it wasn’t a ‘room’ as such, but more of a tiny bottom bunk bed, among multiple bunk beds, in a tiny room infested with FRENCH people. Le gross. That will teach me for being le cheap.
On the first morning my upper bunk mate gave me the ‘you’ve kept me awake all night with your snoring’ look, which is something that I’ve become quite used to by now. It’s a very special look, a mixture of wounded and exhausted, tinged with disbelief, an undercurrent of rage and a strange kind of pity. It kind of looks like they want to reach out and strangle me- but they are too tired and traumatised by inhuman noise I’ve been making all night to actually do it.
Not only that, but on my way to this house (which was in the middle of nowhere) I was on the subway and put my bag down in a puddle of phlegm. And I’m not just talking about a little gob of goobie, I’m talking about a giant, viscous lake of the greenest, slimiest spittiest spit you can imagine. It was truly one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen and even thinking about it even now makes me want to vomit.
And speaking of vomit, a lot of my adventures in the subway have involved bodily fluids of one kind or another. On the train into the city today I moved a newspaper off a seat to reveal what was either two puddles of quite solid vomit or a couple of hefty blobs of slightly runny diarrhoea. Needless to say I didn’t pause too long to investigate and hastily found another seat. It seems that everyone else in New York knows that ‘newspaper on a seat’ is code for ‘poo is on this seat’ because though I watched all the way to Manhattan, no one else lifted up the paper.
So I only lasted two nights in the backpacker slum before one of the lovely guys in The Neo Futurists (the theatre company I’ve been interning at) took pity on me and let me stay in his spare room. Thank the fictitious baby jesus.
Apart from trying not to get other people’s biological waste products on me, I have been tearing around Manhattan searching for props such as a dog whistle, rectal thermometer and glace cherries, putting condoms on bananas, mopping up whipped cream and chocolate pudding and attaching double sided tape to googly eyes soon to be attached to testicles. Yes indeed, there’s no business like show business like no business I know.
Other highlights have included:
Finding a Melbourne style cafe in the East Village which was the only place I went to that served proper coffee, that even had the requisite douchey hipster barista, complete with mega attitude and ironic hat
Finding myself constantly waiting at green pedestrian crossings because they don’t have the ‘beep beep beep’ noise here
The guy who yelled ‘Anna!’ like a plaintive, mewling cat outside our apartment at regular intervals for an hour at midnight
Watching the Superbowl at the same bar as David Cross. I also thought I saw Zach Galifianakis but it could have just been a fat guy with a beard
The fact that there are actual AMISH people on this train. Lots of them. And they have eskies… Is that allowed?
So that’s it folks, New York City in a nutshell. No need to visit now, I’ve pretty much told you all you need to know.
So onto Chicago! More tales to come. Hopefully no more to do with poo.
With lots of love,
As some of you may well know, I am once again abroad, this time in the grand ‘ol US of A. More specifically, New York, that concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you (implied me) can’t do. So therefore I am going to sit in bed and write my third international travelogue. That’s right, I am here to grab life by the balls! I also apologise in advance for the fast and loose use of apostrophes- but unfortunately its one grammatical area where the public school system failed me (note: deliberate mis-use of apostrophe for comic effect).
I am well aware of some of the cliches about travelling to New York, eg. small town girl comes to the big city and optimistically sends tapes of her original songs to record companies but beaten down by the constant rejection and poverty instead becomes a sexy cocktail waitress, dancing on the bar at a whiskey joint run by that woman who used to be on ER despite the disappointment felt by her obese father but then is ‘discovered’ after all- and part of me wanted to hate it… but I’m sorry, New York is. Fucking. Incredible.
But let’s start from the very beginning. I’ve heard it’s a very good place to start.
After leaving Oz we landed on our stopover in L.A. where I was subject to the kind of security screening that means the American government now conceivably have enough collected information about me to create an exact biological clone. It makes Tullamarine airport customs look utterly pathetic- if I were hellbent on international espionage and headed down under I would only be stopped at the gateway to the nation by someone asking if I had any fruit and if so, could I please dispose of it. Thanks mate.
From lala land it was a five hour flight to NY where the delightful child who had screamed a lot of the way from Australia was once again seated behind me and thanks to QANTAS’ extensive inflight entertainment I almost understood why people are going on and on about Downton Abbey. Almost. I did encounter a bit of subsequent jet-lag and my hair, always the most immediately reactive of my bodily features, became instantly panicked by the switch in hemispheres and asserted its presence by behaving in more and more alarming, attention seeking ways.
And so now I’m at large in New York. I kind of want to cram it into my face all at once in a mild panic that I won’t see everything and have to constantly remind myself that I can’t possibly know all there is to know about the city and to be patient.
So far I have eaten a bagel, a pretzel, an enormous brownie and am (by and large) resisting the urge to have french fries with everything. I haven’t had a hotdog yet because they’re actually a bit scary- they kind of flop about tepidly in water on the street carts and that frigging food safety course I did during those dark years I worked in child care won’t let me take the leap… But I did go to a proper New York diner where the staff knew all the customers by name and the orders sounded like this: ‘I need a number 7 medium well straight up add L and T with a side of fries hold the pickle to go’. All with proper ‘Noo Yawk’ accents.
I have also seen a guy in a full spiderman outfit running along the street screaming incoherently at the top of his lungs and a man on the subway wearing clogs. Actual, wooden, roughly hewn, hardcore clogs. And despite New Yorkers reputation for rudeness I have actually found people to be very polite on the whole. In fact, I was on the subway the other night when an older gentleman approached me and asked if that was a leather skirt I was wearing. ‘Yes it is’ I replied warily, ready to rebut his suggestive remark with a polite but ball crushing ‘thanks but no thanks Grandpa’ when he said ‘because it’s riding up at the back’, thus displaying my bottom for the whole of the lower east side to see.
But despite how familiar I thought I was with American culture due to the years of saturation through movies, television and films, it’s the little details that get me. For example you walk on the opposite side of the footpath here, something I regularly forget. Today I was in the subway and forgetting this simple rule, froze in the face of an oncoming exiting train crowd like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I managed to dive out of the way at the last minute- otherwise I surely would have been crushed to death in the oncoming fray. I also consistently go through revolving doors the wrong way- in fact I’m defeated by doors in general here, they push and pull the opposite way or something. This inability to enter and exit buildings is also confounded by the sneaking suspicion that my parka makes me look a bit simple.
I’m here for another week and a half before I head to Chicago so I will endeavour to write again before then. I hope you’re all enjoying the Australian summer- it’s bloody freezing here!