Posts Tagged 'Albuquerque'

Albuquirky

So I went to see the gig mentioned in the previous entry and I have just a little post to write on it.

Firstly, the venue was at a place called the Journal Pavilion, and was effectively a grass amphitheater facing a sizeable stage that’s buried in a valley. Country music, or country-inspired rock, isn’t really a very prevalent genre in the UK – and not knowing much about it anyway, this was an entirely new experience. At first I wasn’t a very good listener. Willie Nelson opened, but I was rather busy admiring the sky, which had upgraded itself to ‘epic’ for the sunset. The sun sank behind the east-facing stage and lit up the stratus clouds from below, whilst away to the south-east huge lightning giants shed a misty rain that evaporated before the ground, giving the impression that the bottom of the cloud was disintegrating into nothingness. The other thing that was distracting me was the crowd – there were two distinct subcultures at large. On the one side, you had a bunch of conservative folk in sensible dress, with their families, nodding appreciably at the music so familiar to them, and on the other hand you had tatty hippy stoners wreathed in tie-dye and cannabis smoke, raving away with abandon. It was pretty interesting – and gratifying, almost – to see these two erstwhile mortal enemies sustain a temporary truce.

Eventually I was able to turn my attention back to the music. I confess Willie Nelson was lost on me a bit, and I put that down to my inexperience with the genre. John Mellencamp was an energetic act that adroitly ignored his 57 years and did a good job getting the audience going with some fun, if a little superficial power ballads – and then Dylan.

I think I had an advantage here. I barely know any Dylan outside ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changin”, so I had no pre-formed image to shatter. Unfortunately, it seemed about half the audience did, and I watched sadly as group after group streamed towards the exit, a sort of perplexed embarrassment on their faces. This isn’t what I came to see seemed to be the general sentiment. Dylan’s voice was scratchy, torn, occasionally unintelligible and half the time he dropped the melody. It was the voice of an old, old man.

But I thought the people leaving kind of missed the point. Perhaps it’s because I like Nick Cave, but the strained voice didn’t bother me at all. The texture, the cadence, and the sheer energy of this figure on the stage, far away, no more than two centimeters high in his white stetson hat… it overrode the crackle and snap of age. I don’t wish to sound self-righteous. If I knew more Dylan beforehand then perhaps I, too, might’ve been disappointed. But I didn’t, and I wasn’t.

Interesting day.

Taking a right turn at Albuquerque

I like this town. It has a lot of heart.

It’s also the first town where I’ve really felt able to simply meander about. It may have something to do with the large University here, but the feel of the place is a lot more communal and concentric than many other areas I’ve been – and you can walk place to place! It also has a far less oppressive climate: it’s not nearly as humid as Louisana etc., where you tend to melt as soon as you step out the door, re-condensing only to melt once again. It’s a dry heat, and a comparatively balmy 87 farenheit, or about 30 celcius, which is sort of the same temperature you might find at the peak of an English summer, so not too bad. Though I was just out barefoot on concrete and came to realize somewhat quickly that there is a reason tarmac melts. Nearly burned my soles clean off.

Anyway, back to the town. Albuquerque is a relatively small city of half a million or so, squatting in a flat, scrubby sierra ringed with mountains and old volcanoes, about a mile above sea level. Rhysatti’s dad lives in a phenomenally large house atop a hill in a swanky area, and so I have been afforded some spectacular views, which sadly my camera simply could not do justice to. The house also didn’t have a computer readily available, so sorry for the break in regular updates. The day I arrived we just kicked back, and the next day I was shown around downtown by Rhysatti’s lovely girlfriend. It really was very nice – Albuquerque has a very much more familiar way of operating, in that there are chic little independent caf├ęs dotted around, the downtown is more centralized and pedestrian, there’s more ‘shopping streets’, and people just seem a little less harangued in their day-to-day lives. There’s a large Latino demographic, and this important part of the culture is reflected in many ways. The style of the architecture is all squared corners, wooden beams and flat rooftops, built with earth-warm orange adobe. Almost all places have subtitles in Spanish, and Mexican food is popular in a big way – green chile and enchiladas at every bar.

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My friend is a cynical old soul, and had some less than enthusiastic words to say about the commercialisation of culture (as we walked through ‘old town’, a faux-preserved touristy area that nonetheless has some pretty buildings). I suppose it is true, and there was an awful lot of tacky stuff around in that area particularly. But the same thing occurred in New Orleans, and although some culture is easily ossified into hackneyed symbols that no longer represent the original, enough of the true culture perseveres – because after all, what defines culture if not what the people create? Albuquerque is a living, breathing town.

And yes, I like it here.

We’re off to see Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp at an outdoor gig now, which should be cool. More chances to do things I never thought I would.

Is this the way to Amarillo?

Today I set off on the road again, but before I launch into that, have a few shots of Texas.

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A hidden gem

A hidden gem

I arrived at the Abilene greyhound at 2:10 for the bus due at half past. And then more fun and games: the stoic chap behind the counter couldn’t get his computer to work, and the clock was starting to wind down. With two minutes to go and no apparent development, I leaned across the counter and asked in rather a strained voice whether I might not just hop on and deal with it there, because ‘I really gotta get this bus’. He looked at me placidly, reproachful, and told me I was the one who showed up late. I had to bite down on a remark about twenty minutes being rather more time than printing a ticket should take.

Turned out I needn’t have worried, as the bus was late again – an hour, this time. We set off into the night with the moon at our flank: full, fat, heavy and – call me romantic – somehow auspicious. It lit up the curve of the midnight cloud and seemed to foreshadow good things to come.

The earth wheeled on through space; the moon relented and the sun came up. But that’s rather an understatement. Josh’s wife had told me: ‘everything west of here is nothing’, and that’s both true and untrue. The darkness, untroubled by street lights, fell away to reveal infinite horizons on both sides, the barren scrubland peeling away from the road until the curvature of the earth bent the fields out of sight of the naked eye. Above them, that massive, capacious sky was back, shot through with bright marigold flares. The sun is more brilliant here, near the equator. Hanging over it were draped these supermassive anvil clouds, and beneath them, in the delicate mauve of dawn, hung the wispy strands of distant rainstorms. It really is a landscape to inspire. There’s simply so much space and light. I’ve not really seen anything like it.

As the sun came up it was cradled in the clouds.

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I arrived in Amarillo just before 9, having got a little – just enough – sleep on the bus. Americans may not know this (even the person I spoke to there didn’t), but Amarillo actually featured in a terrible, kitschy song by Tony Christie, popularized briefly in England by comic Peter Kay. Link is here, if you dare.

It is bad.

Anyway, it was with interest that I walked out from the as-per-usual grotty station into the early morning. But uh… Amarillo is definitely a place that has seen better days. The streets were more or less deserted, the buildings were run-down brickwork with smashed windows, and the only thing in the entire town that was open was a Subway, where the counter attendant wished me God Bless. I wandered around the nearby blocks for about an hour, and then over to the churches, but really there wasn’t much to see. The people I did come across were all incredibly obese, which I’m increasingly starting to associate more with poverty than anything, and a general air of decrepitude cast a pall over the silent streets. A sad place.

After I reboarded, the countryside changed from flat green plains to flat brown plains, then vast, arid sierras with titanic shelves of rock breaking through like whales. Then came a hilly, tussocky area that reminded me of No Country For Old Men, and finally a series of rapidly undulating mounds that were so small and defined that they seemed almost artificial.

I arrived in Albuquerque and have been chilling out with my buddy Rhysaati, who I’ve known separate from PA, for about ten years now. It’s good to finally meet him. But I gotta go now, this isn’t the house I’m sleeping in tonight. More news tomorrow.


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