Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Cared for and Violated by Locals

By Gabrielle Pati

Isla Mujeres: Island of women worshipping the Madonna

My first stop in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is Isla Mujeres, with its immaculate white sand and crystal water beaches, plenty of cerveza to waste away the afternoons in the boiling sun, and where natives try to sell trinkets, sweet breads, and mango slices.

At night local families eat ice cream and congregate at the lively town square (la plaza mayor); having worked hard in the hot sun all day, they breathe and laugh here in the cool air. One night in the square a Catholic-fueled play was performed by the town’s youth, orchestrated by nuns. Teens with faces painted as mimes represented good souls trying to stop other characters from the moral corruption wrought by temptations and evil. Islanos, the people of the Isla, watched and purged evil, mildly entertained, while a sort of Mayan style basketball game raged on nearby. I zigzagged between these two free forms of local entertainment, and began to pick up the sense of community that is so infused in the towns of the Yucatan. I realized that people come out to play at night here, and that the day’s heat and labor prompts the desire for release and social activities that  include everyone: the young and old are on the night scene in harmony.

At Isla Mujeres many people asked me if I was married and if I had children. My negative responses seemed to contrast with the role of women in the Yucatan as wife and mother. Isla gets its name from the thousands of statues dedicated to a female Mayan goddess found by the Spanish when they arrived; now the women create shrines to the Madonna in her place.

Mayan Women Wearing Huipile

Playa Del Carmen: Party and Beach Town with the Outstanding Comida Corrida

Mexicans and Europeans refer to Playa the way Americans refer to Las Vegas. Party time. It’s a place to get wasted at nightclubs, gaze through shades at hot bodies on the beach and, in a nutshell, go wild. Yes, the beach is stunning and the nightclubs could be fun if you’re into that sort of scene. I found the best part of Playa was satisfying my hunger at the local loncherias, restaurants that serve excellent comida corrida, lunch specials of seafood and fresh tortillas to die for.

Sampling the local food is essential when traveling, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by joy in the most random hole-in-the-wall spots. In Playa I found the places where the locals eat lunch to be top-notch, fresh, cheap and delicious, incorporating local fish with salsas, limes and fresh-fruit juice drinks (jugos naturales or aguas frescas) in most dishes. Chicken is local and tasty, and snacks called antojitos are everywhere, and include panuchos and salbutues, which are like tacos but simplified.

At night I found myself at Playa wanting not to go get wasted with trashy Brits and Israelis from my hostel, but seek out places to chomp down on more lime soaked fish with a cold can of Sol by my side.

Panuchos

More well-off Mexicans come to Playa and camp-out for months, working and enjoying the party vibe, while typical Americans stay for about a week and walk down the main tourist strip, the Avenida Quinta, getting conned into overpriced meals and trinkets. Random Europeans and lone travelers like myself free flow around town looking for chill bars and authentic, cheap food. The hostel I stayed at, Hostel Rio Playa, had a rooftop bar and pool, so at night I parked myself there with a few beers and travelers, feeling glad I wasn’t paying 500 pesos (45USD) to be screaming and hammered at the Coco-Bongo. Ayayai…

Around Playa there are some stunning cenotes, freshwater swimming holes, where you can snorkel or dive with fish and turtles, explore caves and small-scale cliff dives. Cenotes are nice shady retreats from the plastic party strip and roasting seaside of Playa. I see myself returning to Playa for the food mostly, with Spanish-speaking friends who could convince me to try the club thing one night.

Tulum and Cobá: Cared for and Violated by Locals

The town of Tulum has ruins nestled against the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean,  hence these pyramids and the beach are the main draws to this small but mushrooming town an hour south of Playa del Carmen.

After hopping off a colectivo (shared taxi van), I walk in the mid-morning heat toward the ruins trying to find the remote B&B. The local taxi-drivers lie and say that my destination is an hour and a half walk and that I better take a cab. I arrive at my B&B Posada los Mapaches in half an hour, mount my complementary cruiser bicycle and head to El Gran Cenote. There I meet some French guys who I chat with in broken Spanish, English and Italian. They are staying at the hostel I stayed at three years ago, which I read was infested with bedbugs now. One of the Frenchies is a musician traveling back and forth between Mexico and Cuba; his long braid and subtle B.O. scream Bohemian-soul and he strikes me as quite a beautiful creature. We end up bumping into each other on two other occasions. I love this random crossing of paths because it reminds me of how small yet vast the world is. Some souls are thrown together and some torn about and we don’t know why.

My B&B was delightful: fresh fruit, smoothies, and homemade food for breakfast, really clean and tranquil, with hosts that care about providing a relaxing and peaceful environment. What a contrast to my experience at the ruins of Cobá.

Hot, thick, humid air engulfed the area as I schlepped around the Mayan pyramids and ball courts built between 500-900ACE. I decided to rest after scaling up the giant Nohuch Mol pyramid barefoot and running out of food and fuel. Having spotted a thin wooden bench, I laid down and dozed off for about ten minutes. I awoke to rustling in the thicket about twenty feet away. Thinking it was a harmless animal, I didn’t get up but peeked with one eye open to my predator: a native whacking off while staring at me. Incredulous and mortified, I sat up and remained still while the young pedi-cab driving perv walked toward me. He pretended that nothing had happened, and I shot him a look meant to kill, but alone in a remote site of ruins is no place for a gringa to get New York on some native.

At this point I realized I had to be more careful; a young girl traveling alone is fine as long as you don’t doze off in the jungle or do other dumb things. I decided to make allies at the next hostel in Merida, so that I could go anywhere and do whatever I wanted with some folk who might back me up in a precarious situation.

Local Caballeros

Merida: la ciudad Blanca, llena de musica, cultura a gente simpatica

Merida is called the white city, and it’s full of music, culture and kind people. This magical city was by far the highlight of my trip to the Yucatan. A colonial, European-esque city of one million people, Merida is the capital of the Yucatan. It is a precious jewel of life. The pastel colored buildings used to be all white, and now brim with a decaying liveliness telling of its glorious past and survival centuries later.

In the late 1800s the Yucatan flourished with haciendas, estates that manufactured a plant called henequen, used all over the world to make rope and twine until the 1940s when synthetic fibers developed. Wealthy hacienda owners (mostly French, Spanish and Dutch) had homes in Merida, and money poured into the city of Merida, which earned the nickname of the Paris of the Americas.

Today Merida is a center of music and youth, with its theaters and palaces, strong economy and high standard of living, though it is still a cheap place to be. There is a university, and a decent gay community surrounding it, which I discovered at a café called El Hoyo. Five out of seven nights of the week one can find free music in the main square, the Plaza Zocalo, ranging from traditional folk singing and dancing, to pop, rock and reggaeton concerts, with break dancing teens soaked in sweat and old men alternating between smoking and chewing their cigarettes.

My hostel, Nómadas, was notably awesome: it had a pool and hammocks, huge rooms, was clean and cheap, only 9USD a night to be in the center of town. I met some chill people there, and I decided to make some male allies and do some exploring with them. One day two ballin’ architects from Mexico City (Districto Federal, or D.F.) invited me to go to the ruins of Chichen Itza with the car they planned to rent. Sweet! We spent the day exploring ruins and cenotes and driving around remote towns in the Yucatan cattle and horse country. We took a horse drawn cart through the jungle to Los Tres Cenotes. I trusted these guys and they took good care of me, and even though I was prompted to go to a trashy nightclub and drink Jagermeister till the wee hours with them, I’m glad I did.

That day, there was a huge concert in Merida, La Noche Mexicana, showcasing folk dancing groups from all the regions of Mexico. There was great food and dancing, and artesans selling gorgeous goods like wooden mortars, jewelry, paintings and sculptures. I was overcome by such good energy between the music, good company and culture around me, I fell hard for Merida that night.

One day I went to the Museo de la Cancion Yucateca, a beautiful converted school housing memorabilia that told the story of Yucatecan music from its Mayan origins up to today. The most infamous singer was Guty Cardenas, a folk singer in the Golden Age of Yucatecan music (the 1920s) who was assassinated at age twenty-seven. Trova music is typical of the Yucatan, and Merida was the hub where all singers converged, formed troupes and performed. The genre of trova includes classical guitar playing with string accompaniment, and is still performed every week at Santa Lucia Park in Merida.

Although locals dress conservatively considering the heat, they sure aren’t shy about dancing. Old and young people dance in the Zócalo and other parks when there is music. At night I constantly found people enjoying themselves and socializing in the main square, eating snacks called marquesitas (cheese filled crepes) or elotes (corn on the cob with cream and cheese), clowns performing, hippies and punks selling handmade crafts, and native women with their many kids begging you to buy a bracelet, please.

After a lovely Yucatecan dinner at La Chaya Maya restaurant, I went to the Zocalo to search for the night action. I met a hippie, squatter punk artesano who claimed to be a martian, part lion, jaguar and panther…OK. He spoke Italian and had a daughter in Italy. Since I am an italophile, we got along well. He showed me a couple local bars, the Mayan Pub and El Templo, nice places to get beers and chill, with a mixture of local meridanos and visitors who venture out there. The next day we went to a giant hole in the ground, cenote, with tripped out stalactites and Mayan faces growing out of them, which happened after a fat joint vanished into us. I had to hang with a crazy local to find such a cool spot, though being a solita traveler presents a risk, too.

Cenote, near Merida

The Spaniard who conquered Merida in the 1500s was named Montejo, and there is a grandiose boulevard that bears his name today, the Paseo Montejo, kind of like what Madison Avenue in New York used to be: lined with mansions, achievements in architecture that the city’s elite enjoyed. Today this giant street is a beautiful place to walk and see the decaying mansions, get coffee and snacks in an artsy café or go out to insane nightclubs and super fancy restaurants. I enjoyed exploring the Paseo a lot, since walking down these streets made me feel regal, and the wide shady streets provide solace from the busy centro. Near the Paseo Montejo I found the ex-pat owned Olive Cafe Stop, with friendly workers and great Chiapas coffee.

On some of Merida’s older buildings there are original signs showing pictures and the corresponding name in Spanish below them. These signs evoke the time when Mayans and Spaniards inhabited Merida together, before and during the birth of the mestizos; the pictures told the (mostly illiterate) Mayans the names of streets and imparted the cultural knowledge of the dominating country of Spain.

Culturally, the people of Merida are friendly, chivalrous and appreciate music, food and culture more than most. Getting acquainted with some meridanos opened up my heart. Even as a foreigner, I felt welcome into the life force of the city. I left a piece of myself in Merida, and I plan on going back for it soon, maybe sooner than I expect.

Locations in the Yucatan

Hostel Rio Playa
Calle 8 Entre 5 y ave 10
Playa del Carmen, Mexico

http://hotels.lonelyplanet.com

Posada los Mapaches B&B
Federal Highway Chetumal
Cancun, Tulum Archaeological Zone
(opposite the entrance to the ruins)

http://sites.google.com/site/posadalosmapaches

El Gran Cenote
In Tulum take the road
to Coba just under 4 kilometers.
Right side of road

http://www.grancenote.com

El Hoyo Café
Calle 62 between Calle 57 and 59
Merida, Mexico

Google Maps

Nomadas Hostel
62 # 433 por 51
Centro, Merida, Mexico

(01 999) 924 . 52 . 23
http://www.nomadastravel.com

Yucatecan Song Museum
57 #468, Centro 97000
Mérida Yucatán, Mexico

01 999 923 7224‎
Google Maps

La Chaya Maya Restaurante
Calle 62 y 57
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

Google Maps

Mayan Pub
Calle 62 between Calle 55 and 57
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

Google Maps

El Templo Bar
Calle 59 no. 438
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

01 999 930 9303
http://www.myspace.com/eltemplobar

Olive Café Stop
Paseo Montejo 470-B,
between Calle 37 and 39
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

http://olivecafestop.blogspot.com


Tel-Aviv, Israel

A Parody of Paradise

By Jared Oppenheim

It seems like yesterday that I walked through the busy streets of Tel-Aviv, with its sweet smell of sweat that lingered. Those days are the days I now long to grasp. They were my leisure days, days consumed with booze and the salt air that rippled between the cracks and pores of my skin, days where all I could do was think of nothing, as my mind dulled in the weekday sun.

I salute Tel-Aviv, with its Shalom, for good tidings sake. I salute Tel-Aviv for bottles of 10 shekel Arak, with all of its jolly popping courage and days spent dousing in the Mediterranean sun. I salute it for its hospitality and warmth, for its days of simple discourse, for its days of nothing, for its days of unwanted visitors and even less wanted friends,  for the bubble I called home, and for the fanaticism that kept the day fresh, when there was only you, me and a bottle between us. Until dawn I salute Tel-Aviv, and fantasize about its romantic misgivings, misfortunes and wines, which were so sour that my chickpea was begging for a breath.

Old Central Bus Station


There can be a lot to say about a city, a city which thrives on its landmark beauty and simplicity, while it’s self-serving urban life grows and envelopes other developing Israeli cities, creating a shield of loftiness throughout the land. This raving and departure drives the  prepubescent city of Tel-Aviv. And at this I remind you, the traveler, how short a life this city has had. One hundred one years.

It began in mid-December, dear traveler, that I arrived in the city of Tel-Aviv. I was in a state of mind that made regret hold on tight, for I wasn’t ready to be living in another land. I couldn’t have thought much more than this at the time. When I arrived at Ben-Gurion airport I was greeted with the whole-hearted glory of inquisition by an immigration officer: my religious views and reasons for coming to this country were all too sloppy, plus my lack of faith almost gave the short man a right to deport me. But at another gander of my features he must have figured me a Jew, and so surrendered me to the slow air of the crazy city. Surrounded by tacky billboards that I couldn’t make out, smiling faces, and its cheap allure, I stepped into the heart of fundamentalist beliefs.

I spent my days in Tel-Aviv kicking the same can, essentially, making my rounds through the local joints, night after night living on bottles of beer and falafel. Being a musician I found myself in the right spots, and, for the most part, at the right times. Although once in a while I found myself in a slight state of awkwardness, a characteristic I can contribute to my ever-changing mental state. Many days I would frequent a café situated on the corner of Sheinken Rehov and Rothschild Boulevard, which actually was quite a drab spot. But every day from half-twelve to seven in the evening, I saw herds of retired or unsuccessful Israeli sportsman, poets and writers, drinking tea or bottles of Goldstar. The hooch would have to send them away in convoys late in the afternoon.

At the time I had two friends who lived in an apartment conveniently located above the café. I would visit them often, say hello, drink tea, watch the antics that ensued below. For the most part, we were the same as the desperadoes of the cafe, except we were young and watching them. I believe doing this made us take on some of their key traits, and we would buy our bottles of Goldstar around the corner too.

The days will pass quickly in Tel-Aviv. There are many hipster dive settings that a young jock might seek. You can ask a dame for a dance and end up with three, until your pants are about to roll off with sweat and sweet licorice. They just can’t say no, it is a matter of inconvenience. To get a man who doesn’t wear stock-green camouflage trousers and a standard issued Ak-47 is a common sign of female success. I have to say, looks don’t necessarily guarantee a night out, but I bet you a paraplegic would have better a chance with a woman than a soldier.




A Night on the Town

I suggest going out on a Thursday or Friday night. Remember this is Jewland, and Saturday is a holy day, so most places shut down. It just isn’t the day of the week,  like in most countries. This, of course, threw me off at first. But it’s better to know this from the start, or you’ll end up chilling out Thursday and Friday, waiting for Saturday night to party.

Rothschild 12
There are a couple joints one should remember when wandering through the streets of this fair city. First of all, you have the Rothschild 12, and just like the name sports, its address is 12 Rothschild Boulevard. If you’re  looking for a vintage type scene, with a great stage, live music precariously often, and an incredibly diverse menu of food, then this is the spot you  should be stopping by. Located on one of the most known streets in the city, you shouldn’t have the slightest difficulty finding it. The only trick is that the entrance is around the back of the building. So when you walk down the grand boulevard, with all of its bright lights and young kids out for the weekend, you will hit an abandoned looking building and think,  ‘Damn! That bastard played me. Fuck that travel guide!’ But no! Stick with it! Around the side you’ll find a happening little entrance, and depending on what night of the week you go, you can catch a variety of the best acts the city has to offer.

Mish-Mish
Then afterward you might be wondering where you can catch a little dive set. Well, your next stop will be the Mish-Mish, located at 17 Lilienblum. It’s guaranteed to satisfy all your hipster needs, while offering an array of nice peach-fish and passion fruit drinks; plus cunt willing to dance with you all night, and then take you home to let you devour into the ripe skin of her tanned flesh. This is a club, dimly lit and hidden behind a mirror, that you might finish the rest of your night in. The music plays loud, and the drinks are served late. And even if the catch of the day leads you astray, the bartenders are the best in town. With a variety of different DJ’s, the music may start at funk and soul, and then move on to electro-dance hall hits, then pop up to your latest hipster fix. All this in a little spot behind a mirror.

Micatronix
If you’re looking for a more intimate, tight, hot, sloppy and packed joint (reminiscent of NYC’s Lit Lounge), then get on down to the Micatronix. It’s at Ben Yehuda and Trumpeldor. This club was hot and fresh when I was on the scene. It has records covering the ceiling, a Pacman machine, DJ’s, and live music everyday of the week. At this club you can expect to be packed in like a sardine, but with affordable drinks and guaranteed good music, it’s worth it. If you’re there on a good night, you’ll catch the DJ playing an array of 20’s swing, mixed with surf and post-punk, and then ending on a high note with dance hall classics. Definitely the club to stay at to meet some of your new friends. To get in is a bit of a trick, though. Being underground this place does not have a web site, and you have to buzz an intercom where  there looks only to be a broken down shop. Walk on over, watch out for people walking into the club, and then slowly inch your way to the intercom and buzz. BINGO! You’ve just found the Micatronix. Now dance!

If you really want to strut your stuff, walk straight to Florentin.  It was once the artistic side of the city but, like all things, it came to an end. I was lucky enough to catch a slight glimpse of a dying phase here. This neighborhood is dimly lit at night, and filled with enough bodegas, laundry shops, food marts and, of course, a whopping amount of pubs, clubs, bars and stars, to keep you occupied.  But for the most part,  the show really goes on at the unadvertised house parties. And as for these few bars that lie beneath the surface mainstream, they are still on the border of mediocre.


A Day’s Outing

You might notice, dear reader, it’s almost impossible to get lost in this city. There is the center, which encompasses most of the urban living area, and it spans from Shenkin to Florentin and from the Central Bus Station to Ben Yehuda. It covers a vicinity of about ten miles, and anything is at most a 40 minute walk away. To navigate through this area, directly relate to the Rothschild Route, which is a boulevard that runs through most of the city center. If you follow your instincts and walk in a circular motion, you’re almost guaranteed to get where you’re going. In other words the city is small.

And if you’re worried about being surrounded by religious freaks, don’t be. The only fanatical man I met in Tel-Aviv, other than the massive amounts of soldiers, which are quite scary since they carry automatic weapons, was a stout man who slightly resembled Jesus. He played the card of being Jesus reborn. The man is just a sight to see. He can do you no harm. His followers, which consist of four women, and the giant picture of himself with his prophetic commandments, can be found at the Carmel Market.

The array of markets in this city extends from one end to the other. On a good day, with a pocket full o’ dough, you can walk about and spend like a mad man, stuff your pockets with tiskets and taskets of this and that, and revel in the fond Jewish memory of the overcrowded market places. But I warn you, before you know it you’re washed-up and walking back home with, more or less, no weight in your pockets. Fresh fish, flowers, breads, various halvas, barreckas ( pastries) and more, fill the air with the sweet smell of longing, regret, and satisfaction. You can spend days walking through all of them, through the allies, between the little chip shops, and then to the beach with its white, white sand and clear blue water. This might be the finest luxury of this city.

Carmel Market


As I sum up my experience with the city of Tel-Aviv, and the country of Israel, I conclude that its yearning to be accepted as a great city of the western world is as apparent as day or night–and this destroys all the culture and heritage that the city once had. This may have been where they all went wrong; for this country that is supposedly the home of the Jewish people has now turned into a circus, manipulated and ring led by American motifs and endorsed by the British.

It’s a shame how the manipulation of a governing force can actually confuse its citizens so much that they can actually believe their neighbors, and once occupiers of their territory, are not entitled to the same privileges as they are. The complacency of the Israeli mass population towards negotiating with Gaza shows just how uncommitted they are to a resolution. I guess the greater shame is the safety and protection the Israelites feel, while their neighbors are imprisoned within their land without aid or support, forced behind walls that were erected to entrap them. Across the border, Zionist groups challenge Palestine and force them slowly out of their own birth right, even as citizens. And although I admire many aspects of Israel, and the goodness it has to offer, this is a dangerous game for them  to be playing, especially for a people that have been played so many times in the past.

“I could have spent my till flippin’ flint… But well, ya know, a God fearing child only has so much to say in a place invested , infested, tried, and yet to be tested.”

Locations In Tel-Aviv

Rothschild 12
12 Rothschild blvd
Tel-Aviv, Israel

97235106430
Google Maps

Mish Mish
Lilienblum 17
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Google Maps

Micatronix
Ben Yehuda and Trumpeldor
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Google Maps

Carmel Market
14 Carmel Street
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Google Maps


New Orleans, Louisiana

The Big Sleazy in My Eye

By Robin Attwood

Photos by Horatio Baltz

From within the garden party sang merry voices and calls of joy between people young and bright, with music in their blood. The table was smeared in melted ice, and a spilt bowl of hummus and salad drooped off one edge. Beneath it, Sula the dog awaited hungrily with soppy smacking chops. Joey was singing a song from beneath the yard’s green umbrella: “Beer and whiskey and wild, wild women!”. He reeked of pot and floated nakedly over his guitar, while Badonna handed out parting gifts labeled A Hallmark Moment. This was the going away party for a few friends and myself on our way to New York and then on to Europe.

The spinning flies finally left our saucy plates, as Sarah placed scented tea candles around the outside living room. The scene was lit with white Christmas lights hanging from the branches of trees, illuminating all from the dining table to the large green umbrella over Joey. Every forehead was sweating great beads of salt in the humidity. This day it had been 104 degrees and typically the humidity lingered at 90 percet. My pal Ryan was losing his mind, his eyes spinning, nonsense rambling, mumbling in a guttural tone to himself, yet engaging others in a somewhat sensible conversation on his side of the wooden bench we sat at.

He finally got a job again, now working for Emeril’s chef company uptown, and in so doing had to break up a dog fight during his interview. And for one reason or another he decided to get wasted immediately afterwards. When I swung by his place earlier in the day to drop off my suitcase full of books and instruments, he wasn’t in his usual garb of tattered clothes, a shirt with a transgender on a cross labeled Jesus, or his three year old gray converse. No, today Ryan wore a white chef’s smock and black satin pants and a wide grinning smile that stretched to his shoulders, as if he were the Sheik of Araby. It was an hour or two after this that I met up with him at the garden party in the upper ninth ward – he was still just as creepy and grinning wildly like before… my friend Ryan.

A few weeks ago, Ryan and a fellow I met a number of years before, who was visiting New Orleans on his way up to Georgia, were asked to paint a mural on either side of a van. It was a long white box van, shiny and asking for detail. I never saw the finished pictures, so Ryan gave Chris, the owner, a call to come over to the France street house and show it to us. Ryan and I waited in the lamp lit street across from a red brick apartment complex filled with crack heads and screaming children. But tonight, most were quiet on the block of France and Urquart Street, which can make a person’s skin crawl, pinch up like a cat’s back, and make you aware of every slight noise in every direction for miles and miles of the sprawling New Orleans Ghetto. Eventually a small grey Ford came tumbling over the block’s pot holes, and I recognized Chris’ genuine smile and tall approach of innocence. There was a girl beside him smoking a cigarette, puffing on the tedious bit of tobacco left before the butt. She eyed James and I up and down as if we were to be hung…. And then, she cracked a witty grin introducing herself as Laura from New Jersey. I could tell she had an East Coast accent with a large hook nose and a Sinatra like face. Laura was classic and I needed to find out if she had anything to do with Chris.

Turned out Chris had misunderstood Ryan’s message about bringing his white van with the mural on it. Ryan was not stoked, as he put it himself. We walked back inside the garden pushing open the wooden fence of the property, entering through the back and tip toeing over my friend’s garden beds. I handed out the rest of our Schlitz from the freezer and popped the cork of my wine bottle, sharing it with some others cross legged on a plank of wood near the house. Not long after, Ryan stood up proposing we leave to the St. Roch Tavern and pillage a few pitchers, and in doing so, get as fucked up as possible, continuing our evening romping about the neighborhood dives.

The St. Roch Tavern lies in the 8th ward neighborhood, one block away from Music Street and two blocks away from Arts Street, resting comely on the corner of Mirais and St. Roch Avenue. It’s fun enough. Some nights there are special deals on drinks, like Cheap Pitcher Night, or on Saturday it is bounce night, when DJ Rusty Lazer plays New Orleans’ favorite hot jams. I prefer the local Abita Turbo Dog to all the rest on tap, which is mostly piss beer in a cup. All of the young punks, weirdos, travelers passing through town, and other creative folk come here. It’s probably one of the better known dives for travelers to come to in the country. It’s the real thing! Fights break out all the time, you’ll see scores of gambling tables in the wintertime, and outside across the street there is an art gallery open from time to time. Not the place you want to go if you’re avoiding the scene, but on the nights when you’re up to it, the St. Roch Tavern can be a great way to begin the evening. To your right in the front is a small seating area devoted to the St. Roch Café, which is more or less a restaurant serving typical bar food like burritos, hot dogs, nachos and cheese fries. Towards the back is a small square stage with a carpet on top of it. All types of music can be heard here. Anything from a shitty old time band to a local soul group, or some mix of circus and performance art with an Eastern European flare. Also in the back is a pool table, janky, but it’s got all its balls unlike the old hang out, The John.

Before there was St. Roch Tavern there was a crusty dive at the bottom of the Frenchman Street strip called The John. It used to be the spot, until the management replaced the pool table in back with a ping pong table. It was also the place to find your guy you’d been waiting on around the corner. But all has changed. However, The John is still known for its stiff drinks, smoky red lit atmosphere and toilet bowl shaped seats. The bartenders use Mason jars filled near to the brim, no kidding, with alcohol and just the top of the drink is touched by mixer. I do have to warn you about the John. My friend has developed two ulcers in the past year from drinking their whiskey sours. You can find this smoky oasis on the corner of Frenchman and Burgundy Street just outside the French Quarter.

Ryan really wanted to find some pot for the tumbling evening ensuing, and sure enough after we hit the tavern I bought some from a friend of mine at Mimi’s in the Marigny. Before all this and two pitchers of dark Abita, watching the punks, the crust lords and neon lights glow to a dark and doomy jukebox – a mix of metal and Motown – I talked my friend Carrie, who had been sitting at the bar, into driving back to her place so I could pick up some aderall. Carrie used to study at Oberland in Ohio and ended up becoming the largest scammer of aderall there. She made a wicked living off of it. She is full jewish and knows how to handle money and people well – her honesty is a useful tool. I bought a few orange pills from her and so did Laura. Ryan was out of his mind as he and I began crushing the orange pills into powder, and then railing it up our noses with a twisted dollar that had been laying on the living room table. Laura was going to save hers and stand back, as Chris smiled his beaming happiness all over the night, and Carrie waited for us with beautiful drooping eyelids and a bright full mouth among a head full of black curls. After this we left soon, dropping Carrie back off at the tavern. I gave her a big smooch yelling goodbye, and then someone brought up the idea of paying a visit to the bar Mimi’s.

Jessy Carolina, New Orleans


Mimi’s is a great neighborhood red-lit dive with a pool table and dartboard downstairs, a gourmet restaurant upstairs and a haunted floor of wood you can stomp and shake a leg on. Once we got there I bought Laura a Highlife, fairly cheap for how cheap it is and how cheap this town really is: two dollars plus tip. I remembered it was a Monday, and that my friend’s brass band was playing upstairs. Every Monday before Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns play, my buddy Peter and a girl Miya teach swing dance lessons in lieu of Meschiya’s band at ten o’clock. The Little Big Horns are a revolving group of great musicians, with great senses of humor, that spin in and out of many other traditional jazz bands in town. Playing everywhere from Frenchman Street to Bourbon Street, these musicians work hard around town every night to spread an age of American music well forgotten into the 21st century.

The four of us walked upstairs and found a table, and then sat down to polish off our cold drinks. We got there right in time to catch the last song of the second set. As the Big Horns dismantled I walked up to my friend Steve, who plays a steady washboard, and asked him where I could get some pot. His slicked back hair and bristly black moustache glistened in the dim lamp near us towards the back window. While Steve motioned us outside and down the stair well, I noticed he had a cuff of tattoos wrapped around both his ankles above a pair of cream colored Dixie stomping shoes. Outside we passed around a one hitter and talked percussion history with our buddy Christopher Sax. We’re all stoners, us musicians, and the rhythm only gets worse the more we’re unable to pay attention to time and space – or anything. But all in all, nothing beats a joint and the writhing groove of splash and brass, with Meschiya’s voice of melting butter in the crackle of her ageless microphone.

We listened to their last set, and before Steve left I asked what he was doing after the show. He said going back to smoke at his place, which turned out to be the childhood home of a great jazz composer by the name of Jelly Roll Morton. By the time the group had finished their pints, Steve and Chris Sax had already left. But I had been to the Jelly Roll house in January, with a blues musician and a minstrel and a house full of swing dancers, so I remembered very well how to get there. It was in the ghetto, of course, of the seventh ward. Down Frenchman Street, past St. Claude Avenue, almost to North Claiborne Street, Jelly Roll’s home has been preserved in its red brick painted ambiance on the corner of two streets crossing. The four of us walked in, and I saw tattered brass instruments tacked onto the walls, old posters of dance nights from Los Angeles to Istanbul, 78 RPM records glorified in frame and a number of worn through washboards hanging by the stairwell in the back of the Shotgun home. Steve and I got into it about washboard players, seeing as I am one myself, and started poking videos to play online on his glistening bright laptop. While passing around weed, weed and more weed.

By this time, night was beginning to crawl into morning and the others we’d come with wanted to go home. Chris and Laura dropped Ryan and I off in the Marigny outside his house on Spain and Chartres Street. As barges pushed silently the world’s industry along the river, seagulls flew over head and a train sang along the tracks in the distance between the Marigny and ninth ward, awakening the beginning of another day at the port along the Mississippi.

Ryan and I were talking completely incoherent to each other now, sitting in his living room contemplating the last orange pill, and then decided it was my last night in town and we had better do it all for satisfaction’s sake. Ryan’s house is a two room shotgun of wood floor and decorated walls covered with his charcoal and oil pastel paintings. A number of his photographs taken in New York and Georgia hung on the wall in strange display. The faces and actions of old friends hung like psychedelic trips captured and put up for show. It was just another evening gone wry with beer in our belly and a number of joints to the head. We were lucky Ryan’s girlfriend decided to spend the evening uptown so we had the place to ourselves. Although we railed that one last aderall, I passed out shortly after, as Ryan described something silly to me in his mumbles.

There are many beautiful sights to this city and all its neighborhoods, hung in deep vine and sooty dampness, cobblestone paths and lamp lit buildings, but there is a reality as well, one in which the passing tourists from around the world never gets to see. When you’re all fucked up from Bourbon Street, and all you know about this city is what you saw in the French Quarter and what you heard from the historic buggy rides – it is nothing like what this town is actually like. Bourbon Street, the heralded walk of booze, strippers and shitty Zydeco music, is incredibly expensive. Along Bourbon many of the clubs sell what are called Hurricanes and Grenades, which are essentially bright neon colored mugs of alcohol and toxins whose soul purpose is to make money and waste away people’s vacation stays in the Quarter. Families, I do not recommend bringing your children down Bourbon Street. It is a horrible place full of idiots and sour mornings.

I do have to say, living down here is joy, perilous joy, inspiring and lots of work. Neighborhoods are rough, the bars are full of drunk punks and interesting artists, but something haunts this city. As if in the humid air there breathes both life and death. I would say that a fine line exists sharper in this city than anywhere else. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina still lingers about like a weed that can’t be pulled, and the history of this city’s poverty cries out so loud it breaks a person just to visit.

When I awoke later that day, it was ten o’clock or so. I found Ryan sitting up in the corner of his bed stroking his two cats, shaking slightly kind of frantic with a look of wild space in his dry eyes. I guess he hadn’t gotten any sleep and was waiting on his girlfriend to come home and take care of him. I nodded, understanding what a fucked up evening we had had and left through the front door, unlocked my bike along side the neighbor’s fence, and left. New Orleans is such a seedy place and a reality with no rules but to party. At this hour of the morning there is a real innocence to the Big Sleazy, as if the night before had never happened, or was now just another wounded bout of lust.

Locations in New Orleans

St. Roch Tavern
1200 Saint Roch Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117-8305

(504) 945-0194‎
Google Maps

The John
2040 Burgundy Street
New Orleans, LA‎

(504) 942-7159
Google Maps

Mimi’s
2601 Royal Street
New Orleans

(504) 872-9868
http://www.myspace.com/mimisinthemarigny

Music Featured

DJ Rusty Lazer
http://www.rustylazer.com

Meschiya Lake
http://www.myspace.com/meschiyalake

The Little Big Horns

Athens, Greece

Because You Asked Why I came

By Bobby Damore

I met her at the club where she dj’d, a place called the Key Bar. She had some friends with her and I met all of them there. They were nice people. The man in the group insisted that he and I only speak in Greek. I managed to do so only slowly, while Anastasia implored us to give it up. A short girl with an aquiline nose, a thick mess of black hair, and a hipster’s fashion and music sensibilities, she and I attempted sex the night we met, but she had gotten me too drunk and I couldn’t get it up with the condom and all. On this night I was hoping for round two, a second chance, not because I really wanted to have sex with her, but so I could redeem myself and make it so that calling what we did “sex” more accurate. She’s a busy girl, some sort of well-known journalist. Well-known for what, she didn’t tell me.

I hated the bar we were in. Too modern. More to the point, it was too loud and I coudln’t hear anyone talking. Why do they have to turn up the stereo so loud? A few of her friends left, and I saw my opportunity for the three of us to do the same. I suggested we go to a place called Rebetiki Istoria, a bar/cafe where they have live Rebetika music. Rebetika is the blues music of Greece. It’s golden age was the 1920s to the 1950s. Everybody in Greece loves Rebetika, and so they naturally obliged.

It was a long walk from Psyrri to Exarcheia, but we had much to talk about. Anastasia was interested in why I would want to be in Greece, not just because of the economy crumbling but in general. In her mind, Greece was just about the last place anyone would want to live and she regretted passing up her own opportunity to leave it. Her questions were not merely inquisitive; they had an edge to them, a sharp edge that cut me and got my attention. Her questions were imploring and critical – I at once felt an urge to answer her genuinely and an urge to curse her for her insolence. I told her many times already that I was here following my musical dreams, but whereas this would be enough for your average person, even if they didn’t think it was worth it, it wasn’t enough for her. This was her opportunity to proclaim to an outsider all of her grievances against her mother country, the place that nurtured her growth and betrayed her trust. The place that built in her a sense that maybe Greece could be a respectable country finally, and then used that same sense to beat her in the face. Perhaps there was also a humanitarian bent to her screaming. Maybe she was actually worried that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Certainly, I didn’t know everything before coming, but I knew it would be hard and that’s really the most important thing I needed to know. I mostly brushed her off, figuring that her business as a journalist would turn anybody into a void of negativity. Every one of Anastasia’s friends was more understanding of why I came and what I was doing even if they agreed with Anastasia’s criticisms of Greece, but she was out to prove to me that I had made a mistake.

Her friend asked me what I thought of the air in Athens. I remarked that I thought it had improved since eight years ago, because I remembered the mucus in my nose turning black and this time around that wasn’t happening. He said that his job was to study the air quality in Athens and that it may actually be worse, since if you can see the pollution in your nose, then that means it’s big enough to be filtered. But if you can’t, then it may actually be entering your lungs.

All well and good, I already knew that Athens was a smoke choked city halfway on fire with anarchists, heroin addicts, and mobster politicians. In fact, that’s the only environment where Rebetika truly made any sense and I very simply was on a mission to become a part of the music I was in love with.

We arrived at the club very early, 9pm, and it was empty. Not even the band had shown up. It was only the waitress. The place was very pretty from the outside. It was an old building, blue and in an ornate, neo-classical style, which isn’t very common in Athens anymore but a little more common in Exarcheia. There is one wooden sign next to the door which says “Rebetiki Istoria” but other than that there is no trace of the existence of good times, drinking, dancing, music, or smoking within. If the police still cared to shut down places like this, they could very easily walk right by it and not see it. Within, the walls were old and stained, but continued in this ornate style, as if there would be a meeting of dignitaries or holy men, only they’d have to be from hell or something. Pictures and paintings covered the walls. Paintings depicting scenes from Rebetika songs. A man in a suit walks in on another man sleeping in his bed and takes out his pistol. His mother and his wife, presumably, try to stop him by giving him alcohol. Other pictures have guys in suits partying in hell, or partying in some tavern, or smoking on a mountain, or smoking with lots of girls, or smoking in hell. One painting depicts the Nazi Occupation. Another depicts the lost Greek homelands of Asia Minor, where my grandfather was born and where many of these musicians were from. The photos were old pictures of all the greats and all the legends of old times. All the people who basically created modern Greek music, enshrined in their own personal club, where the songs they wrote would continue to be deified by ever new generations of venerators and imitators. There were no windows. The club was obviously formerly an abode, since there were rooms that had the doors taken off to open up the space. Many small tables were crammed next to each other. The place had the smell of constant smoke, as if it would always smell like a club. Indeed, this felt like the place I was looking for.

We sat in a corner and I changed the subject. We went back into trying to teach me Greek by only speaking Greek. I forget what we were talking about. They asked me to play my bouzouki before the band showed up and so I did. I played songs until customers began to arrive and then the guy with us decided to leave. They were thoroughly impressed, not only that someone from Texas could be so interested in the music, but that they’d be so good at playing it. The waitress had overheard me playing and told the band about me after they showed up. I was called into the back room to meet them, with Anastasia giving me a not so gentle push to go and meet my dreams. Of course, there was no way of knowing if I was going to meet my dreams.

The band consisted of lively characters, casually dressed in modern attire, subdued dark colors, jeans, ribbed, tight shirts, gruff and full of cigarettes and booze. They smiled the smile of pranksters, tricksters. Someone had already taught me the word psonyara, which means a person who thinks they’re much better than they actually are. They had the smile of a psonyara, someone with attitude, people who think they’re hot shit. They looked upon me with a kind of tired, over it, been there look and quickly brushed me off – if they even noticed me. The head of the band, also the owner of the club, beckoned me to come.

In Greek:

“Give me your bouzouki!”

“No!”

(laughter)

“I’ll play you a song first.”

(laughter)

“No, first you give us your bouzouki!”

I pulled out my bouzouki to start playing and the lead bouzoukist in the band reached over and snatched it from me. Everyone in the group hunched over it inspecting every last inch. They poked, prodded, placed ears over things, plucked and pulled and played a few notes.

“It’s crap,” said the lead.

“Let him play and then we’ll see,” replied the owner. “Play us your best song.”

I took a seat and played a song called “Markos the Jack-of-All-Trades”, a song where a man and a woman are arguing. She acuses him of evading his marriage vows because he’s been chasing other women. He claims he’s been too busy working all these jobs this whole time to be able to find the time to marry her. It’s the song I know the best because it was the first Rebetika song I ever learned. I used to get stoned and listen to the 78 rpm recording over and over because of it’s hypnotic, pulsing rhythm and the way the singers sound like they’re dogs barking ready to pounce, but somehow eloquently, like nobility. I escaped into the world of the song, performed the opening melody and began to sing the first line.

“Okay that’s enough. Stop now.”

“Huh?”

“Stop playing. You’re good. You’re very good. Come tomorrow evening between 9 and 9:30 to perform with us, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Nice to meet you. We have to go on stage now.”

The “stage” was just a space cut into the wall in the next room. It had the effect of bringing the experience right to your table since they were on the same leve as everyone else. I appreciated this set-up, since you could clearly participate with the performers as they played. The next day would be my first public performance in Greece. I returned to my table and told Anastasia what happened. She became very excited for me. The band took their seats and she and I began to make out hard and solid for what seemed like ten minutes or so. This was definitely a high point in the life of any musician anywhere, to get the job and get the girl in the same night. Her lips tasted like victory, or white wine. I’m not sure since I was too drunk at this point. I don’t see the difference between victory and wine anyway.

The place was full, packed. The music was not loud, but the people were. It was very lively. The crowd was mostly young, with some people of all ages filling in the rest. There was a group of people who moved from England to some island back in the 60s to start their own school for the islanders who didn’t have one. They professed their love of Greece and Greek music when Anastasia predictably questioned their motives for deciding to live in Greece. They gestured to the lively and boisterous crowd, getting hammered and joyously yelling, singing and dancing all over the place as their reason for staying. Anastasia admitted that having fun is the one thing Greek people tend to be good at. In fact, it was the reason why she didn’t take the job offer in New York, because she knew this doesn’t exist in America. Songs about crime and living as a bohemian, with intricate melodies, stirring poetry, dark themes, high passion, driving rhythms that shake your bones; Rebetika is the siren call of Greece, if I may use a gratuitously overused Greek metaphor. In this case, it may be true though. The music I love has brought me to a Greece teetering on financial and economic ruin, a Greece on it’s way down after so many years on it’s way up. I really had no way of knowing if I was jumping into my dreams or into my ruin. The bouzouki, sqeaking it’s woody, spring loaded twang, distracted me from any thoughts of utter ruin. I had a strange sense of being at home, like everyone here could be my best friend for the night if I simply spoke with them.

Before we left, she reminded me of how evil and terrible Greek people are, that I should be careful of these people who have invited me into their band. She said they will do terrible, horrible things to me. I told her that all artists are terrible people and that she should fucking relax for god’s sake.

I walked her home. The air was cool and we were both ripped. It was a long walk that took us by a large park. We had lots of time to talk about “us” and what “we” were as a couple. She told me that her boyfriend of many years had recently dumped her because, apparently, he thinks she’s too negative. “Hmm, how could he have gotten that idea?” She told me to lay down the rules for her. She asked me, “What are the rules, so that I don’t hurt you?” I should have told her not to ask such ridiculous questions because I’d lay down some rules if I had to. Instead, I told her not to do the exact thing that I knew she was going to do. “Don’t tell me you like me and want to be with me, but then never meet up with me again.” She promised she wouldn’t and then she said that she had to go home alone. I didn’t see her again for a few weeks.

The next night when I showed up, there was no one except the owner and the waitress. There was a small stereo playing old recordings. The waitress sat smoking, dressed in all black, her curly Greek afro guided the wafting cigarette smoke to escape. The owner was sitting with his bouzouki and his whiskey. He very gentlemanly invited me in and sat me down next to him. He knew no English, and my Greek was still pretty bad so we just focused on playing music. The way it works in a Rebetika band is, whoever starts playing a song, everyone else just joins in if they know it. This is how it works during practice, while working on stage, or just hanging out. Somebody thinks of a song, and without saying anything starts playing it. At this point, nobody else is allowed to butt in and try to take over with a song they thought of. They must wait until the song is over and begin playing it immediately if they wish to play it. It’s an interesting form of etiquette. I find it both fair and liberating to have a small set of simple rules designed to keep people from playing over each other. If no one can play along with your song, then you stop and another song is selected. If no one knows the words, the song is skipped. No computers are consulted at any time. No Youtube, no online song databases. That’s all done in your private time because “the ones who wrote the songs and played other people’s songs back then had everything memorized” and that’s the level of skill and quality everyone is aiming for. The owner was impressed with my repertoire of some of the most obscure songs written by the most popular artists. I was in awe, simply because I had never been in the prescence of a bouzouki player who’s style and repertoire I respected so much, having a dearth of bouzouki players in America. His notes were harsh and present, they vibrated the air in front of my face. His age had done his skills well. His voice was in a traditional cantada style, which was a nice element. We went on like that until the lead bouzouki player showed up. The other guys in the group called him simply “the fat guy” even though by American standards he just had a large belly. The three of us played a few songs together but I had a feeling this man considered me an unwanted addition. They began to discuss the issue of me after I played a few songs for the fat guy. I didn’t understand most of it, but I think I got the gist of their argument. The fat guy was not on my side. He was coming up with excuses of why I couldn’t join. The main excuse was that my repertoire was too small. The owner insisted that I could easily learn all the songs they play if I keep coming back every day. He insisted that my style and skill was unique and good enough to be a positive addition. Yet this was unconvincing for the fat guy. At a later time, the waitress would tell me her suspicions that he was indeed blocking my access to the group because he knew I was better than him. It was a nice thing for the waitress to say to me and I choose to believe this because it is so flattering and because the guy was just generally a dick. He would stare at me while he was playing. He’d stare directly into my eyes with this look that said, “See, I’m better than you! Look what I can do, can you do this?”

Now, I’m not the kind of guy that cares to dethrone people who are that invested in their position. What would working with him have been like? I didn’t want to know.

Three other guys showed up which was a relief. They were much more lively and their styles were much more to my liking than that of the fat guy. One was young, and he expertly played some of the most difficult pieces in all of Rebetika. He was quiet and nervous but spoke English, so I got to know him best. Another was a guitarist. His strings were of nylon, which I hate. There’s no brute power in nylon. Nylon is for soft music that flitters. Rebetika is not soft music, even when it is fun, there is something terribly serious about this fun they have, as if it could be the last time they ever have fun. Nylon strings cannot convey this. Also, his style was unremarkable. But the third guy, an older gentleman, like the owner, was the king of the evening. He led us all. He took control of the entire affair and led us to a path of enrichment. He annointed us with his powerful singing voice, made me burst out laughing with some ridiculous move he pulled on the bouzouki. He was a clown, but one who could best us all at our own game. He was very fun to perform with.

Customers began to show up. It was a quiet night, it being a Sunday. The audience were silent and attentive. I had the chance to whip out a few obscure masterpieces that I save for the right moment to impress people and succeeded in doing so, but mostly I was in over my head. The fat guy was right about my small repertoire. But this was really a great honor, a night I will probably remember for a long time. When the night was over, the owner even paid me. It wasn’t much, 10 euros, but I took it as a token of appreciation, and as an endearment.

There were no girls for me on this night. But I walked out of Rebetiki Istoria with something far more important.

Locations in Athens

Key Bar
37  Praxitelous St.
Athens, Greece 10560
(+30) 210 32 30 380
Keybar.gr

Rebetiki Istoria
Ippokratous 181
Athens, Greece 11472
(+30) 210 64 24 937
rebetiki.istoria@gmail.com

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Saturday Nights in Sinza

By Richard Prins

The Mwenge Bus Stand: April, 2010

It’s Saturday night, and like the rest of Dar es Salaam, I’m in pursuit of starehe. Good times. Cold lager. Loud laughter. Callipygian women. And the most delicious music I can find. Nine o’clock is approaching and I’m still alone in the room I rent from my friend’s mother, sipping brandy and listening to “The Heart of Saturday Night” to remind myself what melancholy tastes like. I’m sending text messages, receiving urgent beeps. Every time I come here to my second favorite city the Saturday night circuit has changed. Last year’s top club got arrogant and started charging entrance fees, so all the penny pinching thrill-seekers fled to freer pastures. This year Milton Nyerere, grandson of Tanzania’s first president and patron socialist saint, has remodeled the dying Paris Club and christened it The Calabash. With its own house band that covers soukous, Bongo Flava, taarab, Afro and Euro and American pop, it’s the place to sell your face in 2010. People come all the way from Msasani, where the ministers and diplomats live, to dance and drink here in Mlalakua, the slummiest neighborhood in Sinza.

When I get home to New York and resume my studies, there are many things I’ll miss. Swahili and its fluid angularity; my friends’ antic-some sagas and grandiose hustles; all the strangers (there is no Swahili word for stranger), our spontaneous conversations, and being called Jesus for my hirsute benevolence in the bars, in the streets, in my home, even in bed. But I won’t pine for anything more than the starehe of Sinza, where joy is never more than 1,500 shillings away (500 ml beers generally run you slightly more than a dollar). I’ll even be plagued by dreams where I hop a Thursday night plane to Dar, only to realize I have to cut my Saturday night short to make it to Monday class on time. Most visitors to Tanzania find Dar es Salaam, the third-fastest-growing city in the world, ugly, unplanned, dirty, nothing more than a place to sleep and board a plane, just a stop on their way to animal-voyeuring or rural do-gooding. But if you find yourself in Tanzania, I highly recommend you ride a daladala to the Mwenge bus stand; all of the locales I profile here are within walking distance.

The Mwenge bus stand, Dar es Salaam


AMBIANCE: July, 2007

My first night out in Dar es Salaam. With my new mzungu friend, whom I hated for speaking better Swahili than me, and his mshikaji Ambrose. I also hated that when they first greeted each other as “mshikaji,” I thought they were calling each other “mshikaki,” which means “shish kebab” instead of “homeboy.” And they laughed at my expense, which is all part of being a mzungu. A neon turquoise sign glittered, AMBIANCE. Ambrose spoke to a thick brick of a man and handed him a 5,000 shilling note. We breezed past with halted glances as the bouncer pocketed our discounted entry fee. A deep, buoyant bass line rumbled in my ears and under my feet, lights strobed past the surprisingly sparse dance floor, illuminating the bar’s swarm of scanty-dressers. Through a barred window, Ambrose got all of us Safaris. Mike and Ambrose bounced into the limelight, which had more mirrors on its walls than people on its floor, and scores of drink-nurses on its outskirts. Mike threw up his hands like a frat boy and revolved a few times stiffly.

My beer twirled my hips into motion; I hadn’t felt so visible since I was the only person not dancing at the bar mitzvahs of seventh grade. I caught an eye that had set upon me, sparkling like her can of hard cider, which clinked a man’s Tusker. She wore a button-laden shirt with a price tag, in dollars, still dangling from the sleeve. She laughed at a joke that couldn’t possibly be audible over the pidgin grunts of “Banjuka Tu” (the latest track out of Kenya), let alone funny. Mike and Ambrose still had their hands up like frat boys. A splash of beer sloshed out of the bottle in Mike’s hand as he executed a few more flat footed semi-turns.

There was a howl in my ear; the sparkly-eyed lady nearly tripped over her heels (two sizes too big) to seize my shoulders and sway her hips in a smoother replication of my own. Bejeweled pink tendrils emanated from her thighs. She clapped with all her wingspan and whooped like a Maenad at the disco ball suspended from the ceiling. Again she gave my shoulders a whack. “Enjoy!” she ordered me, and spun around to rollick her buttocks. So I palmed the small of her back and traced her undulations, as she performed acrobatic squat-thrusts before me, her eyes transfixed by the narrow mirror, lapping up the sight of us amidst the coruscating postures. Dozens flocked to the dance floor. Young men banded together to hail each other’s moves. Mike had picked up a girl of his own, though she was already swinging her head to the disinterested left and right on every beat. I cupped my hands to my partner’s ear, so she might know I spoke Swahili.

“I’m the only one who doesn’t know the words!”

She cackled, “You will know!” She flattened herself against the mirror, one leg off the ground like a micturating dog, her hips vibrating hummingbirds flailing against the glass. Ambrose’s hand landed heavily on my shoulder, “Remember Jesus, if you fuck a prostitute, just use a condom.”

And the world made a numbing sort of sense again. The song ended, and something American began to play, presumably to appease us wazungu who had lured everybody to the dance floor. She scampered towards the bar in a manner that assumed I would follow. But I only broke away from the dance floor to lose myself in a crowd of hungry eyes, their word-breathing lips like mosquitoes scanning for veins on each other’s faces.

And I recognized the English song:

Now that it’s raining more than ever

Know that we’ll still have each other

You can stand under my umbrella

Ella, ella, eh eh eh

Under my umbrella

Ella, ella, eh eh eh

The dancers tossed up their arms with added vigor on the chorus of “Ella!” Hela. Swahili for cash. The entire room supplicant at the very mention of it.

Ambrose bellowed an earthquake into my ear, “Jesus! Let me take you a beer! Look at all the vicheche!” He’d already taught me the slang word for loose women; Vicheche refers to a type of savannah weasel that emits foul fumes from its anal glands.

Me with friends at local liquor bar, Dar es Salaam


I sought an empty bar stool among the diamond of miniature counters hung from the ceiling by strip-club-style poles. And there were thick arms around my waist. Grappled from behind, as if the barstool had been resurrected as an anthropomorphic tree. “I laaav you!” wailed my assailant, a chunky woman with glittery makeup and braids like chutes, eyes shuttered in blind drunk bliss. “Take me home!”

“Home? Where’s home?”

“Where you come from!”

“But you’re too drunk to walk!”

“No! I laaav you your body!!”

The middle-aged man she was sitting with frowned resentfully, cursing himself for buying her a last drink before getting down to business. Mike and Ambrose came pursuing new beers, Mike’s brow slick with sweat, cheekbones languid with intoxication. They saw the gridlock I walked into, and laughed to my rescue.

“She wants Jesus to save her,” Ambrose snorted.

“Save me! Take me!”

“I bless you!” I repeated for the dozenth time that day. Then the motion of dramatically, Jesusly placing my hands on somebody’s head. “Now go in peace!”

“No!” she stumbled to her feet, taller than me, huger than me, still gripping me.

Ambrose jabbered angrily. She screamed something back, crudely caressing my Jesus tangles. Ambrose stuck two fingers in his mouth for a shrill whistle, “Bouncer!” He gave a strong yank on one of her arms but she didn’t come loose. He tore at the other arm and my scalp burned at the pull of hair. He cocked his arm to strike; she cleared the counter of empty beers, flung one bar stool at Ambrose, the other at me. The hulk bouncer then dragged her away with much shrieking and little effort.

“Crazy bitch, huh!” Mike was impressed by how the night had developed. “Too bad she wasn’t good looking.”

“I hate that shit!” Ambrose fumed, finally releasing his pent-up punch in a thwarted fist pump.

“Man, I could tell you just wanted to fucking smack her,” Mike commiserated.

“We fuck her!” Ambrose Englished back. “Three dicks, one pussy!”

And not even misogyny could dispel a sumptuous alliteration assembling in my brain. “Kicheche kichaa!”

“Jesus! I take you another beer! She broke yours!”

“She must have been a Pentecostal!”

“Hope she’s not too hungover for church tomorrow.”

We colonized a countertop and sipped our last drinks. The blue label on the Safari Lager read:

As the red sun sets, like a growing tribute to our work, our pride, our tomorrows, one reward is in order. Full bodied, full flavoured, a beer for a people of purpose. Safari Lager, more than just a beer.

Meeda Club: October, 2007

She was rotund, bouncy and loud. Chilu liked that; on Meeda’s dance floor, he dove to her and hung from her thick neckline. She whooped and held up his puny frame for a few gyrations.

After stumbling off his feet one too many times, he pushed me into her and growled like a chainsaw, “Try it, Jesus!”

I traced her enormous butt’s rapid pumping with his hips. That’s right, my mind echoed with boozy laughter, I’m that white boy who knows how to shake his ass.

A dreadlocked someone slapped at my pocket and skittered away. I thumped my wallet into my thigh – still there, the fool didn’t know what to do with the baggy African pants I wore, their pockets six inches deep.

“That one tried to rob me!” I pointed, marveling to my partner.

She tossed her loose braids and a glance across her shoulder, then backed up into me like a pickup truck with hydraulics. “Don’t worry! Don’t worry! We have fun!”

Chilu returned to drag us out past the club’s patio; he led the way, but we balanced his dipsomaniacal gait. As they bargained, a familiar voice spoke to me from the darkness.

“How have you been, Jesus?”

“Cool, cool,” I bobbed my head, not recognizing the speaker. (I swear, I can usually tell one black person from another, but without streetlights, I can’t tell a black face from black night.)

“You didn’t get my email?”

Now I saw the corvine visage was Teacher’s. “Email? What email?” Last week he pawned his phone to the bartender for beer money; he promised he’d be sending me an email.

“About the school for street kids I’m starting?”

“Ah, didn’t see it. You know how the internet is mad slow around here,” I dropped my voice as though we shared some cosmopolitan understanding.

“My birthday is next Tuesday, you know?”

“Cool, cool, we’ll have to get some beers.”

Now I heard Chilu snap, “No, my dorm! Me and Jesus, we fuck you, 25,000 shillings.”

“Hell no!” she stomped a conniption in the road. “Rent a guest house. Then we all tombatomba!”

A lesson in Swahili grammar: Tomba means to fuck. Tombatomba means to fuck a lot.

Bwaga!” I tried coaxing Chilu out of his fixation. Drop it.

“Jesus, you have money for a taxi?”

“Your dorm’s a block away!” Half a block; we were already walking. “You’re drunk, let’s sleep!”

“No! Guest house!” she hollered, still adamant.

“Chilu, I don’t want it, you know I have a girlfriend.”

“You have two girlfriends!” Chilu snickered, flashing a pronged peace sign. “What’s a third!”

Hard to argue with that logic. But I already knew that Chilu would shortly throw a fit. Either right now. Or at the gate in front of dozing guards. Or in Chilu’s room and wake up our friends.

And then a firm, muscular wrist seized me by the Adam’s apple and whisked me off my feet. I hung from the arm like pants from a clothesline; another shadow barked in my ear, “White phone! White phone!”

The prostitute scattered as a fist exploded in Chilu’s face.

“If you’re gonna mug me, mug me in Swahili,” I gurgled my lifeline, and was placed back on my feet.

Simu iko wapi?” he demanded, less gruffly.

“In my pocket. The other pocket.”

He tore at the pants, and out popped a phone. He picked it off the ground, and unsnapped Tevas from my feet as expertly as one might a brassiere.

Kuma mamao!” I roared to the sky and Chilu, who was shirtless with a mustache of blood. Their mothers’ pussies.

“The bastards take my phone! My Professor Jay shirt!”

In the morning, I am that whiteboy walking barefoot to the daladala stand, preparing to beg for a free ride back to the university.

Did I pass her on the road? It was so dark last night – but what other heavyset, curly-braided woman would be slapping cahoots with a thick-wristed thug, his tall dreadlocks still glowering?

Maasai locals at local liquor bar, Dar es Salaam


Gaspar’s Place & Pluto: December, 2007

Teacher was surprised next Tuesday when I showed up at the squathouse he hoped to convert into a makeshift English school. The structure resembled Stonehenge, but instead of tourists, the neighborhood riff raff sat on cinder blocks, dragging on a joint and freestyling in Swahili. I didn’t partake in the joint, as I had reason to believe Teacher’s drinking was interfering with the efficacy of his TB medication. I was, however, pressured into reciting the one Swahili poem I’d written, which propagates an afrocentric theory of Jesus’s ethnicity. I had brought ten thousand shillings; Teacher ditched his customers and students so we could enjoy four rounds on two stools at a short wooden table. Gaspar’s Place was the name of the kiosk that had a large cooler, and an excellent collection of old-school hip-hop records donated by the regulars.

“Jesus, this means a lot to me, man,” Teacher’s baritone began to wobble on his fourth Safari. “Those years in the Lower East Side, I froze my ass every birthday! Nobody ever did this for me!”

“You ain’t freezing now,” I clapped his knobby shoulder, referring less to my beneficence than to the blanket of sweat that had followed me around the past five months.

“Who has paper!” Teacher shouted. “What’s your birthday, Jesus? Everybody here, tell me your birthday so I can write it down!”

I ripped a page out of my palm-sized notebook so Teacher wouldn’t see what I had already written about him. “February 6. But I’ll be back home by Christmas.”

“Then we’ll have a going away party instead! Pablo Escobar, what’s yours?”

The characters of Gaspar’s Place stopped reiterating their stances on the latest beef between Kanye and 50-Cent, and began shouting out their birthdays. Most of them are former members of the faux-gang Sewaside, some of them having made cameos in Swahili hip-hop music videos, others having made late-night promises to me that we’d record a single together at Bongo Records, any day now. “I never knew,” Scarface, the elder statesman of the local drunks and veteran bar-brawler, shrugged. “But I think I’m almost sixty.” I couldn’t stop staring at his face; he had a new gash in his left cheek, an inch long and almost as deep, his skin cratered with infected, desiccated pus the color of strawberry shortcake. I couldn’t imagine how much that hurt.

“Another round, Jesus?”

Niko mbovu,” I unidiomatically stated that I was “broke,” unwittingly using a phrase that essentially referred to myself as a “broken person,” i.e. a prostitute. It’s quite fortunate that East Africans have an uncanny ability to understand any and all manglings of their language.

“A moneyless mzungu!” Scarface snapped his fingers, his craggy face suddenly pneumatic with awe. “But a sociable one! Teacher, compare Jesus to the others. There is a reason the Tanzanians go around with him – he mixes himself! None of the others will sleep in Kijitonyama Hostel! Or come drink with us at Gaspar’s Place! But when you see Jesus, you see he is a man of the people!”

Buying people beers always pays off in excessive praise. “That’s right!” Teacher pounded the table. “It’s because he knows the Lower East Side! When I was a squatter there, we drank Midnight Dragon every night, and smashed the bottles when they were empty! Jesus, I’ll show you how the other half lives! We drank Safari tonight, but most of my people can’t afford Safari. They drink gongo, you know what that is?”

“I know it ain’t legal!” I arched an eyebrow, and followed him across the highway to the paths, where I couldn’t see the mud puddles and continually step in them.

“Everybody welcome Jesus to Pluto!” Teacher debuted me to a room with mudded floors, dim kerosene lamps and dimmer eyelids. “They call it Pluto because when you come here, you’ll never get back! Tell me, sister, have you ever seen a white man here before?”

The waitress nodded, unimpressed, “One time.”

“Damn,” Teacher pumped his fist in dismay. I too was dismayed that I could not claim, like Columbus, to have discovered this foreign land. “But I bet he wasn’t drinking no gongo!”

“He came from World Bank.”

“The bastards! I translated for them once and took them to Meeda. As soon as they saw how much beer we drink, I saw their eyes clicking, calculating how much money they could make if they just got us drinking Heinekens! Kuma mamao, bring us some gongo!”

For two coins, she brought us a jam jar filled with foggy liquid. Teacher had a deep sip and passed it along with an involuntary grimace. I lifted it to my lips and saw suspended debris, smelled corn husk, crucifixion and rubber cement.

“You quoted Jacob Riis earlier!” I realized. “You do know the Lower East Side!”

Every swig gagged me, hammered my head bluntly. I got so drunk on poverty that I fell in mud on my way back to the hostel and ruined my favorite dashiki.


Locations in Dar es Salaam

Mwenge Bus Stand
Google Maps

The Calabash
Sam Nujoma Road between Mlimani City and the Mwenge bus stand
(The intersection of Sam Nujoma Road and Bagamoyo Road)


Ambiance
Shekilango Road

Gaspar’s Place
Mlalakua (If it’s street is on the map it’s one of those forking out
behind the Calabash on the Mlimani City side of Sam Nujoma Road)

NOTE: People in Dar es Salaan don’t usually use street names, due to the fact that they don’t have signs. All of the listings above are educated guesses. The best way for anybody to get to get to these locations is to go to the Mwenge bus stand and just ask an autoriksha driver.

New York City, New York

Easter

By David Detroit

So like, I was hanging with my girl in the afternoon who works at Beacon’s Closet in Park Slope, this cheap re-sale shop that has another location in Williamsburg. I get totally hooked up with dirt cheap clothes, that would probably sell for a bunch of bucks at some crazy high end boutique. But Beacon’s has reasonable prices, nothing tends to be over $50 max, and hot girls work there, my girlfriend’s the one and only black girl. Lurking is highly recommended at Beacon’s, much to the girls’ dismay. I’m there on a mission to get a new shirt for a job interview at the School of Visual Arts, to be a manager for the film department’s camera equipment. I find a decent fancy dress shirt, that Karen tells me was originally $600, made by some exotic designer, but I’m getting it for $10. A few of her co-workers vaguely flirt with me, which always brightens my day. Remember that dream sequence in Fellini’s 8 1/2?

Beacons Closet

So anyhow, I meet my buddy Cotty at Washington Commons for a long overdue drink. It happens to be Wacom’s 1 year anniversary,which equals happy hour all night. Depending on the bartender, happy hour is either $3 or $4 for a well drink, and $2 off their beer selection. It’s the type of place that’s good for a chill hang with your bro who you haven’t seen for months, not a crazy freak out party spot, or anything romantic. They tend to have decent rock’n’roll played by the bartenders, who all seem decent thus far. Kinda low lighting, tables, an octagon bar, and an outdoor patio.

Washington Commons


So yeah, since it was really nice weather for the first time in ages, we sat outside, and Cotty ended up convincing me to go see The Smith Westerns at Mercury Lounge later that night. He played them for me on his iPhone, and it kinda reminded me of like freak beat crossed with The Undertones, with a healthy dose of Marc Bolan. And they’re all teenagers, supposedly. So I was into it, younger kids are usually better performers and less pretentious about having fun. We caught up about this and that,  and considered taking a spur of the moment road trip to New Haven at the end of the night with this kid Myles who was hanging out. Cotty wants to go to this pizza place he keeps raving about, and I wanna get some fucking cheap lobster. But they both puss out.

So Cotty really had to take a shit, and insisted on me coming with him to his apartment. But it’s like, dude, I don’t wanna walk all the way to your apartment just to sit on your video game couch and listen to your poop session. So I elected to stay at the bar and have a few more drinks, and hang with Myles, who reminded me of a younger version of myself, and discuss the differences between “Raw Power” and “Rough Power”, both of us being huge Stooges fans. I take a $3 shot of tequila, and head out the door. I ended up running late, and Cotty was kinda peeved. Stumbling along through Prospect Heights, I noticed I was just around the corner to one of the only rad Mexican joints in NYC, Chavellas. I told Cotty I was gonna get a cactus taco before meeting him at the F train, and Cotty forbid me due to tardiness. But being the disobedient type I am, I got one anyways, and they’re so delicious, yet too expensive for me on average. $3.25 for a taco is a bit much, $2 or $2.50 would be perfect. But they are perfect tacos, so whatever. They also make my favorite mole sauce in the city. Go there.

We got to the train, and discussed a bunch of jibber jabber about Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander”. All the while I’m trying to convince my girl to come meet us, but she thinks she’s too bloated to come out, despite the fact that she weighs 110 lbs, 5’6. God damn, does this country make women feel inadequate. I suspect she was all bumming out about it because she asked me how she looked in a dress that was too small for her, and I didn’t lie. But like, I didn’t want her to spend the dough to end up buying an XXS dress that was meant for a fucking teenager. So yeah, she wasn’t gonna come, and didn’t want to spend the money, and I felt this odd sense of guilt.

So we get to the Mercury Lounge, a relatively forgettable venue at Essex and Houston in the LES (Lower East Side), and due to my vague negligence, Smith Westerns is already done with half their set. However, there is a perk to this, and this is a good tip for all you cheapskates out there. If at all possible, if you’re going to see a band, and the only band you’re interested in seeing is the last band, try to show up in the middle of their set, because often times the door guy will just let you in for free, rather than charging you ten bucks for 10 minutes of music. And if the door guy doesn’t let you in, he probably had someone spit on him earlier that night, so don’t bug out. I hate it when people bug out on the door guy. In ten years of going to clubs, I’ve only had one bad time with a door guy.

So yeah, we watch this teenage band for 4 songs. They remind me of GIRLS, and I sort of don’t understand the importance of this whole explosion of sissy rock going on right now, but I don’texactly hate it either. Cotty doesn’t mind missing half the show, because we got in for free. However, he had already paid $10 for the show the night before, at the Market Hotel in Bushwick, but it got busted by cops before they went on, and he didn’t get a refund because the door guy jetted real quick. So in a sense, he already paid for the show, but didn’t have to pay twice. So yeah, they were pretty decent, in a whiny sort of way, and one of the guitarists looked like Cousin It from Addams Family when he drooped his hair down, while playing the guitar. It was kinda charming. They play an encore, and seem genuinely humble. I’m sure they’re up to their ears in pussy.

We didn’t buy any drinks there, and decided to head to Motor City to see one of my facebook friends DJ. I think it’s come to the point where I have friends, and then I have facebook friends, and there’s a big difference. We pass by the LES staple Pianos and Max Fish, both of which I don’t have a hard on for, like some folks. It’s just something that’s before my time, and the decor just reminds me of Urban Outfitters or some shit, so I can’t relax, or pay attention to what people are saying. We get to Motor City (also a bit drastic on the decorations), and it looks kinda dead. My facebook DJ friend can be mega awkward or pretentious (I can’t tell which one it is) when he’s sober. And it’s only 11:30, so I doubt he’s drunk yet, but when he’s drunk, he’s fucking hilarious. So we don’t even go in.

So I decide we should head to Mars Bar. I feel this strange sense of responsibility to try and hang there, since I could generally be categorized as a punk. But like, the place smells so fucking bad, I just can’t hang. This is coming from a dude who grew up living in a dingy basement that flooded every month or two, if that says anything. I like how the place looks, but the smell is overwhelming. Cotty described the smell as a 3 year old jizz sock, that was used perpetually to dry off his balls after jogging for three miles every day. So yeah, just like the last ten times of trying to get a drink there, I end up walking in and walking out. It’s like, why do I wanna spend the $6 or whatever to sit in a smelly bar? The clientele reminds me of a rough Cleveland crowd, which is definitely a plus, compared to the typical East Village yuppie/hipster/whatever the fuck you wanna call these people. White people. But yeah, I guess I’m just too bougie for Mars Bar. It’s a shame, because I really dig that song “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking” by Shane McGowan, that has a music video that takes place in Mars Bar a billion years ago, with Johnny Depp drinking tons of Gin — I’m a youtube addict.

Mars Bar


We head to KGB Bar, at E. 5th St and 2nd Ave. They have these really awesome Russian beers that are a pint, 8% ABV, and fucking killer. I can’t remember the name, but for $6 in the EastVillage, this is kind of like getting two beers for the price of one, and less of a beer belly in the process. KGB Bar has readings there, but I’m too irresponsible to get in with the NYC writing scene going on. Me and Cotty discussed which whiskey is the most reprehensible to order, and we both decide Johnny Walker Black, with Dewars as runner up. I love this bar, again, for hanging with bros during off hours; it’s a blood red bar upstairs that seems to have lots of old timey decor. But the bartender totally cut off one of my favorite Richard Hell songs to play Nirvana’s “In Utero” in its entirety. Me and Cotty discuss Nirvana for the rest of the hour, and end up getting the fuck out of there after some weird lady from Rome tries to pick up on us.

So yeah, me and Cotty part ways, and I stumble over to my default late night snack, Mamoun’s. I don’t get any street cred for Mamoun’s, as it’s perhaps the most widely known falafel joint in NYC. But it’s consistently rad, except on this night, I don’t recognize the cashier, and he’s getting in a bunch of arguments with three customers, because he fucked up all their orders. This guy must be new, and he’s swearing at people and shit. I work in service too, and I’ve dealt with plenty of bullshit. But look, if you fuck up someone’s order, you gotta make it right again. You’re potentially scaring away thousands of dollars on a yearly basis, by losing 10 customers. But he proudly proclaims that he doesn’t care about being rude, and tells people to shut up. I not only get my standard falafel sandwich with hummus, but this time I also get a spinach pie, as advertised on the poster on the counter. The falafel is satisfying as always, but the spinach pie was actually disappointing, in a weird microwavey sort of way. I also recommend the shwarma at Mamouns, it tastes like really good pussy (All my gay buddies should beware). Maybe if you dig the shwarma, it means you’re an in the closet straight guy? Dunno. Girlfriend was sleeping when I got home.

So yeah, not a bad Easter. Thanks, Jesus.

Locations in New York City

Beacon’s Closet
92 5th Ave
Brooklyn, New York
(718) 230-1630
Washington Commons
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
748 Washington Avenue
(between Park Pl & Sterling Pl)
Brooklyn, NY 11238
(718) 230-3666
Chavellas
732 Classon Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238-4607
(718) 622-3100
Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002-1021
(212) 260-4700
Market Hotel
1142 Myrtle Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Motor City
127 Ludlow Street
New York, NY 10002-3214

(212) 358-1595
Pianos
158 Ludlow Street
New York, NY 10002

(212) 505-3733
Max Fish
178 Ludlow Street
New York, NY 10002-1549

(212) 529-3959
Mars Bar
25 E 1st St
(between Extra Pl & 2nd St)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 473-9842
KGB Bar
85 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003-8904
(212) 505-3360
Mamoun’s Falafel
22 Saint Marks Place
New York, NY 10003-8022
(212) 387-7747

Bands Featured
The Smith Westerns

Nashville, Tennessee

The Good But Ultimately Doomed

By John Thurgood

We got into Nashville around dark. I was with an old friend, Josh, whom I didn’t get to see very often anymore because we lived a few hundred miles from each other. We knew each other from high school (even though we didn’t actually go to the same high school), and most of our conversations spiraled in and out of stories from those times. His girlfriend Kimmie, whom I’ve also known for a good number of years, was with us; along with my girlfriend, Jen. Jen was lovely enough to provide us the car for this trip to Music City.

Driving into Nashville was the same as always: city lights with a few buildings worthy of the title ‘skyscraper’. Most notably the Batman Building, which, I guess, is a term of endearment more popular than what I had originally assumed. I always thought it was a made-up name by someone in the car when we were teenagers, but I’ve heard people use the term outside that circle of friends, so I guess the Batman Building is officially a thing. This trip was actually my first time back since those days, when I had first gotten a license and a few friends and I would drive down from Evansville, Indiana, for no other reason than to look at girls and get rejected somewhere new. We weren’t old enough to drink then, and the only shows we went to were at all-ages venues. So, this being my first time back, I knew little, if anything, of the twenty-one and up venues in Nashville. For help on the subject, I asked a friend, Jodie. She had moved to Nashville a few years back, and always had an ear to the grindstone about this sort of thing. Her brother was a punk-band kid in Evansville’s small scene, and she followed in his bootsteps without much effort. She told me about The 5 Spot and some other places. She had also mentioned a contest called 8 off of 8th at the Mercy Lounge. Eight bands played each Monday night, and the best band would go on to play at the up-coming Bonnaroo Festival. It was judged by the audience and sounded like a goodtime, but we couldn’t make it to town until Saturday. So, we missed it.

We wanted to go somewhere that was nice for drinking, and watch a few good but ultimately doomed bands and, from Jodie’s description of The 5 Spot, it seemed like the right ticket. The bar sits at 1006 Forrest Avenue, just on the outskirts of a nice neighborhood, with a lot of modest two-story homes. A block over, on Woodland Street, there is a nice strip of local restaurants and shops. We found street parking about a block away from the venue.

5 spot interior

Inside The 5 Spot were tables and stools scattered about the room, but it didn’t seem cluttered. The bar itself was lined with TGIF-esque flare and a more-than-healthy amount of chrome. A single television was mounted behind the bar playing college basketball. In front of the stage was a nice clearing for any boot-scooting one may feel entitled to. The stage was a raised wedge in the corner, and, when we walked in, a guy was busy setting up a white sheet on the back wall of it. When he was done, someone turned on a projector and old commercials played on the sheet (i.e. Crossfire, TMNT, and Slip’n Slide). Our conversation circled around the commercials for a moment while we ordered drinks. The barman was in good spirits, and we invited him in on our little conversation. He laughed, we laughed. And eight dollars plus a tip later, we settled over at the pool table with a Mickey’s Hand Grenade each.

Josh had always kicked my ass at pool. I paid for a game, and he shut me up pretty quick. We put the pool sticks back and sat by the bar with the girls. They were talking about school. Jen, my girlfriend, had been thinking about grad school, and it was pretty much all she had been talking about for the past few months. Josh and I—we stayed out of it. Josh had played a show in Nashville the year before, and we talked about that for a while. He played guitar for an Oi! band, 16 Tons, and they had opened for Straight Laced at The Muse. I wanted to go there, but he couldn’t remember where it was. So, we dropped it.

The reason I wanted to go to The 5 Spot was that every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday they have a handful of bands play from around 7pm to an indeterminate time. Playing time is a little murky because it usually depends on the number of bands that cancel or don’t show. That night all but one band had canceled, and they seemed to consider their appearance some kind of charity. They played seven or so bluegrass standards, interspersed with vague stabs at the audience from the singer and the band. I didn’t catch the singer’s name—a real jolly guy. He was a short fellow with a silver and gray beard, and he wore his guitar slung over his paunchy gut, ignoring it most of the time as if it were just another article of clothing made to keep up his pants. He was from the say-something-smart-then-drink-from-your-beer school of shit talking, which wasn’t quite as entertaining as the band’s version of “My Fare Lady,” but it held some weight. Most the audience didn’t seem to mind their remarks, and I got a pretty good feeling that everyone there knew each other one way or another. The whole experience had the feeling of a block-party barbeque without the barbeque. The string band finished their set, and after a while a lady in jean shorts and a homemade tank-top took to the dance floor with a multi-colored, flashing hula-hoop. Around this time we realized there were no other bands. And so, we left.

On the other side of the Cumberland River, just down the street from Vanderbilt University, at 2219 Elliston Place, The Exit/In and The End sit across the street from one another. The End has the distinct advantage though, being nestled in an alley fifty feet or so from Elliston Place, and it often has the cheaper cover too. That night The Exit/In was charging six and, from what we could hear curbside, the band playing sounded like some disco-punk band that we didn’t really want to see. So, we went up the alley to The End, which ended up being a good thing. They had a reasonable five buck cover, the doorman was a rather jolly fella, and the place was crowded—but in a good way.

The End

The End is not necessarily a bar. It has a bar in the back and they do serve bottles and cans of beer (ranging from two to five dollars), but it’s all-ages, which I guess has its ups and downs. Like most all-ages venues, there’s a lot of standing room. But they have a separate area to the right of the stage with three small round tables for the old and disheveled types, and there are stools at the back by the bar if standing and feigning dance moves is not your thing. We missed the first band, but we made it in time to catch a few songs from The Grayces, a young trio that sounded similar to the Heartless Bastards but with less folk influence. A boy played bass and another played drums, and they had a girl on guitar and vocals. After their set, the night began to slowly fall apart. Josh’s girlfriend started complaining about not feeling so good. She hadn’t eaten very much that day, and the multiple Mickey’s from the previous bar were starting to disagree with her. She was a trooper though, and insisted that we stay for the next band.

As The Grayces cleared the stage, a girl hopped on the mic and explained that the show was organized by the Tennessee Teens Rock & Roll Camp, and that a portion of the night’s proceeds would go to help secure equipment for their upcoming summer camp. They needed money and gear. As she explained her organization’s needs I sipped from my beer, knowing that I couldn’t contribute, and felt like a dirt-bag for not being able to. This feeling was made even more apparent when three teens from the camp stepped on the stage to further explain their needs. While they talked, Jen brought up some similar camps out west. The ones she knew were all-girl camps. The three girls on stage had made her think of it. Josh kept saying that he wished he had had the opportunity to go to Rock’n Roll camp. He was being a little weird about it, the camp business, and I could also tell he was pissed about staying at the club when his girlfriend was sick. He had his arm around her, and he was giving me a look. I told him we would only see the first couple songs of the next band, and then we would go.

Once the teens left the stage, Hanzelle, the next band, began setting up. They were a five person group with a stand-up bass and cello. They had a guy on keys and electric drums, a guy on acoustic drums, and a guy on guitar. They reminded me of a poor man’s Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s. Good stuff. The stand-up bass player was a maniac. He had a handlebar mustache and a hairy gut. He took his shirt off after the first song, which was, I guess, some kind of band inside joke because they all thought it was hilarious, and I guess it was. He plucked away at his bass with a genuine smile. He was having a goodtime, and for a few songs I was too, but then, because Kimmie wasn’t feeling any better, we finally left. We tried to stop somewhere to get something to eat, but everything was closed. We stopped at a gas station to get some water, and a candy bar or something for Kimmie, and then we left Nashville altogether.

Locations in Nashville

The 5 Spot
1006 Forrest Avenue
Nashville, TN 37206

(615) 650-9333
http://www.the5spotlive.com/blog/

The End
2219 Elliston Place
Nashville, TN 37203-5205

(615) 321-4457
http://www.myspace.com/theendnashville

Mercy Lounge
1 Cannery Row
Nashville, TN 37203

(615) 251-3020
http://www.mercylounge.com

The Muse
835 4th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37210

(615) 251-0190
http://www.myspace.com/themuse

—-

Bands Featured

The Grayces
http://www.myspace.com/thegrayces

Hanzelle
http://www.myspace.com/hanzellemusic