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The girl who walks on machetes and other unexpected adventures on the Sunset Limited

Sarah Ann neatly categorised the people who travel on trains in the US. Those who are too fat, those who are too old, those who are too hard up (....to fly) and school choir groups. I thought she was spot on until I took the train from New Orleans to Austin for a second time last week and met some people who defied all pigeon-holing attempts. In the glass-ceilinged observation car I chatted to John from Virginia, a tattoed 24 year old whose Dad had changed plans to fly him from Arizona to rail after the news of terrorist arrests in the UK. We compared our sketchbooks, his featuring considerably more skulls and tits than mine. The cheeseburger in the dining car tasted all the better for the waiter, who told romantic stories of how the railroads once served the finest beef in America. Also eating dinner was a displaced Katrina resident moving to California with her two kids and a lady named Holsom, a disgruntled political activist who launched into Tony Blair´s shortcomings when I told her I was from England. Downstairs in the cafe car, a Denzel Washington lookalike kept us amused with his comedic impressions and seen-it-all-before anecdotes gathered over thirty years of Amtrak service. Holsom offered me a ride from San Antonio to Austin with her friends, saving me a gruesome five hour wait in the early hours of the morning. Not only did one of her friends turn out to be a circus performer who walks up staircases of machetes, she also works for a friend of Robie and Jay´s in Austin. Small World.....Enthusiasm for American Trains Undiluted!

It seems incredible that it takes less time to get to Buenos Aires by plane from Austin than it does to New Orleans by train but I can confirm that´s the case. I´m writing this from Argentina, where my marginal Spanish has at least managed to get me from airport to hostel and an empanada and cerveza into my growling stomach. My activities here over the next two months range from an ILAUD workshop (two week international student affair on the nebulous theme of ´Nature and the City´), followed by work with m7red, architects who ´build forums that bring together both experts and non-experts to discuss pressing political and urban topics´ and Ala Plastica, artists who ´develop projects linking art and socio-environmental causes´.

In the meantime, in preparation for working with m7red on one of their projects called Flood!, I have been hastily reading Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security. It makes such compulsive reading that my first day in Argentina was spent glued to a book about New Orleans. I just finished it so that I can begin cultural adjustment tomorrow. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in penetrating the complex web of politics and personalities behind the government response to Katrina.

And a final plug for Ronald and his steady climb towards presidential candidacy - read about him in the New Yorker this week..... if you missed him on the Weather Channel over the weekend...

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