Trump’s America

Venice Beach smells of piss and pot. It’s full of tarot readers, henna tattoo stalls and shops selling sloganned t-shirts. My friend (who lives here) calls it Camden on Sea; that’s not a compliment.

Yet my friend chooses to live here and I have gone out of my way to stay here on my last 3 visits to Los Angeles.

I should be staying in an airport hotel, the viewing facility is right by LAX. In the U.S. viewing facilities are often in the sprawl of soulless, low rise 80s architecture that surrounds airports. It’s convenient for clients to fly in, interfere, then fly home. I refuse to stay in airport hotels because they make me sad.

Venice is weird, along with the smells there’s always noises and colour; it’s a visceral place. Staying here provides an intense LA experience, albeit one that doesn’t leave me any closer to understanding the city.

Today Venice hosted the Festival of Chariots, a Hare Krishna event. From what I could see it involved a mix of Indians in traditional dress and white hippies dancing around, singing and smiling a lot. There were also floats with Hindu idols, and stalls providing veggie food to the many homeless people who live around the beach.

Alas, whenever a certain number of humans gather you always get a smattering of wankers. Today the wankers stood proudly under signs proclaiming the judgement of God (Christian).

As the happy-clappy and generous parade went by the thick set bearded wanker at the front got on the tannoy. Sadly he wasn’t preaching a warm, inclusive gospel of love thy neighbour. Instead his Christianity was a thin veneer for nasty, bullying racism.

He mocked Hinduism, India and the traditional dress of the American-Indians. He derided India as an awful place (I’ve been a few times, it’s amazing), and inevitably suggested that the American-Indians could “go home”. There were also pro-Trump slogans and, bizarrely, criticism of the feeding of the homeless. That was something that Jesus actually did too!

Personally I don’t find the Hare Krishnas’ much more objectively credible than the wankers’ but they’re infinitely better people. I’ve read a lot about Trump’s America and here it was, in California of all places. So angry, so cruel, so full of bitterness and bile.

Singapore

I like Singapore. Ok it’s organised fun and nothing like Manila, Jakarta or Bangkok, but I found all those cities exhausting. I only like Bangkok out of the three.

Look, if you think your Dad funding a trip to Asia will help you find yourself then Singapore is not the place. My understanding is this is best achieved by sweating on a Thai bus for 20 hours, getting pissed and then catching an STD from an Australian.

I wasn’t in Asia to find myself, I went for 5 days to catch up with one of my best friends. Singapore was ideal.

Twenty minute cab ride from the airport and I had a cold beer in his downtown office. Ten minute Grab ride later and we’re sat in the open front of a bar enjoying the mix of inside AC and outside heat, all with another cold beer. It was wonderful, everything was easy. We could focus on catching up and getting drunk. When we needed food we could order it without hassle and it arrived.

The next day we went to the famous Hawker markets. Yes they’re organised and sanitised compared to the rest of Asia but they’re also easy and delicious. So many stalls offering salt, grease and spice in various combinations sorted out our hangovers. Cold beers got us started again

And just look at the array of it. One of the best things about London is that new cultures arrive and bring their food, the same is true in Singapore

But I wouldn’t want to live in Singapore. Last year I read The Circle by Dave Eggers and Singapore brought it to mind. If you’re willing to play by the rules, not question anything and colour in the lines then it’s incredible, you will be looked after for as long as you behave. However, whilst we’re all willing to behave for a few days of stressfree deliciousness you don’t want a lifetime of it

Chicago

I’ve been to Chicago more than I’ve been to any other U.S city, and I really like it. Work takes me there but I want to go with Helen, I just don’t know how to fit it into a trip anywhere else we want to go.

I love U.S. bar culture, that the thing to do is pull up a stool and quietly greet the people either side of you. There’s no compulsion to talk to them, often after a long night moderating I just want to drink, but if you want to talk there’s usually interesting conversation available. I was previously in Chicago on the night of the Illinois Republican primary and spent the evening chatting to a chap who’d voted for Trump because “it’s impossible for him to become president but he can mess shit up”.

Whenever I’m in Chicago I always go for a deep dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno. Cool Chicago foodie types will tell you that deep dish is bullshit and only eaten by tourists. This might well be true but Deep Dish is basically a quiche with no egg and just a load of cheese, tomato and sausage. You also have to wait 40 minutes for it so can wind down from moderating with a couple of pints.

Whilst waiting for my pizza Alex the bartender and I watched the final of the College Softball World Series between UCLA and Oklahoma. Alex explained to me the intricacies of softball and his appreciation of “thick” women. It was difficult to argue with him, the game was brilliant and the college girls’ thighs substantial.

On my free night I walked up to the Old Town because I wanted to go and see the Second City theatre. We’re binge watching 30 Rock (again), so this was a pilgrimage.

Opposite the theatre there is a dive bar which is apparently famous. I went in there because the walk had left me thirsty, it did beers for $5 and was busy at 5pm. I later found out that the owner’s quirky personality and passion for artistic impression got it onto the Chicago edition of Parts Unknown

I then went and ate a lot of tacos. I love tacos. They’re just the perfect canvas for chefs to do amazing things: Small enough that they can be bold and experimental, and with a “fast food” heritage which allows them to be irreverent and dirty.

(While these tacos at Broken English were good the best I’ve ever had were at Pico’s Tacos in Mackie Mayors, Manchester

Bucharest

I’ve started doing this (again) as some people seem to be interested in all the places my job takes me. I always post pictures of amazing meals and cool places when I’m on a work trip, but I when go for dinner with my wife I often don’t take my phone. The reason I post so much on work trips is that I’m bored, and frankly lonely. I post because I want attention, I just want someone I know to be interested in what I’m doing.

It is therefore probably appropriate that I’ve restarted blogging from a country I’m really struggling with. I’ve always said that Belgium, Philippines and Nigeria are the three worst places I’ve ever been for work. Romania might join the list, but I really don’t want it to do so.

It’s a bit unfair really as flight delays meant that I landed at 2am. I’m also staying in a shit hotel in the suburbs, a hotel where the room keys have tassle keyrings. It’s also the sort of hotel that fails to send a car to the airport to pick you up, when you land at 2am, knackered.

My location hasn’t helped the food choices either. The first day the local agency told me the only place to get lunch was a kebab house. This turned out to be a ‘Mom & Pop’ kebab house with a middle aged couple of similar shapes bustling about between a counter and a barbecue grill. The food was alright; there was freshly cooked chicken in a warm wrap with lots of raw onion. I love raw onion.

A thunderstorm last night meant I was stuck in the same suburb for dinner. As I didn’t fancy kebab again this left me with two options; my hotel or a pizza place. The hotel Dining room was empty but for swan napkins and penguin waiters, both looking overly starched.

The Pizzeria sat me down opposite a couple who seemed to be rehearsing for an Amsterdam stage show. When kissing keep your tongue in your own mouth until your lips are locked. Their foreplay demonstration was accompanied by a playlist that moved effortlessly from a lounge version of Kung Fu Fighting to ‘(What a) Wonderful World’ in the style of Betty Boop

Again, the food was alright, it was a passable pizza; anchovies, olives and capers. (I love anchovies almost as much as I love raw onion, I use a lot of smints.) If a late night takeaway delivered this pizza at 1am you’d be happy with it, but it was a bit disappointing at any other time. That’s kind of been the story of all the food here.

I started off by caveating all of this by saying I’m still giving Romania a chance. The reason for this is the people. I know that sound trite but the people I’ve met have all been great fun. The Moderator is a young urban Romanian, bit nerdy. He knows about cricket because Andy Zaltzman mentions it on his podcast with Jon Oliver. The translator is pony tailed World War One battle re-enactment enthusiast who seems to have some fairly strong views on the Roma community. I think he might be a “Incel” (If that’s the word.) And the first respondent we went to visit for an ethnographic depth interview brewed his own moonshine. He was also a persistent and enthusiastic host, so it’s possible I’ll go blind soon. As with the food I think his moonshine is best sampled in the early hours, when you’re already pissed, but it was a lovely gesture