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The Real Accent Project: USA Travel Blogs

Brooklyn & Philadelphia

Day 1: London to Brooklyn
I can’t believe we’ve pulled this trip together so easily but the problems we experienced on the previous trip have proved enormously useful and we’ve really learnt from our mistakes. No mucking around: we’re staying in a dodgy part of Brooklyn (goodbye Manhattan), we’ve set up recording appointments directly (cutting out the middle man/woman) and, most importantly, Gavin’s ditched the big orange case. We arrive stateside very late and it takes some time to reach our hotel, primarily because it isn’t easy to find.

Day 2: Brooklyn
This morning we have an appointment with Rick at his flat in Dyker Heights. When researching this trip I contacted a number of Brooklyn walking tour companies for information and help: Rick owns and runs one of them. His accent is perfect plus he’s a talker and we’re entertained for almost three hours. Afterwards he takes us on a little tour of some his favourite places, including Defonte’s Sandwich Shop in Red Hook (mouth -watering, just in case you’re interested). We need to get to our next recording appointment though so Rick drives us to Park Slope. Turns out he grew up on the very street where we’ll be meeting Christine and Frank.

I found Christine and Frank through a twitter connection, Rhonda Musak (how on earth did I ever organise anything before twitter?). Rhonda’s boyfriend, Woody, is their neighbour. I’ve already bonded with Christine over the phone from London so I’m looking forward to meeting her in person. She doesn’t disappoint and we’re completely charmed. Frank is a little shy about being recorded and only joins in towards the end. It doesn’t really matter because his accent is a little mixed up. He arrived from Italy at the age of 12 so he’s retained a lot of his original Italian sounds. This time we record for over three hours and leave with our internal organs aching from so much laughter.

Later on in the evening we join Rick and his friends at a sports bar to catch the Knicks game. To tell the truth, we weren’t even sure which sport we were going to watch and had to Google it on the way. New Yorkers reading this: please don’t laugh too hard and forgive us our ignorance. Afterwards, Rick takes us on to his favourite Brooklyn nightclub. I was so knackered by this point I can’t even remember the name of it. The man has amazing energy levels, he never stops moving. I can’t thank him enough though for showing us the real heart of Brooklyn: it’s a very special place.

Day 3: Brooklyn
We’re off to record Elisa. Remember her from the last trip? Well we stayed in touch and we’re back at the restaurant this morning. It’s a lovely spring day and the area looks completely different with the sun out, much less sinister. We sit in the pizzeria while we wait for her and eat slices, chatting to the locals. Once she arrives, we set up our equipment in the restaurant. The session won’t be easy because we can hear the chefs preparing for lunch in the kitchen. Listen closely and you’ll probably hear some chopping that we weren’t able to filter out. Still, I think it adds ambience. Elisa is an incredible subject with so much to tell us about her life. The waiters gather in hushed clusters slightly in awe of the process. Elisa’s father Dominic is charm personified and offers us another espresso to end our visit.

In the afternoon, we venture onto Manhattan for the first time in this trip. We meet up with Rhonda at a gorgeous chocolate shop/café in Soho called Marie Belle. Fantastic to meet her after all our twitter and email conversations. We all over order in a bid to try as much as we can (our taste buds aren’t disappointed, just in case you’re interested).

It’s Saturday night and we’ve been inspired by Christine’s childhood recollections about Coney Island so we catch the slow train there. To be honest, it’s a bit miserable, despite regeneration of the area. A very cold wind coming off the sea doesn’t help. We eat hot dogs at Nathan’s (fairly disgusting, just in case you’re interested) before calling it a night. Long, involved day tomorrow, which might require some sleep.

Day 4: Brooklyn to Philadelphia and back again
It seemed a little silly to visit the US again for only one accent so we’ve built in a day trip to Philly (just like we did for Boston the last time around). South Philly accents aren’t handled very well in the movie world (try mentioning ‘Rocky’ to the locals and you’ll get a good reaction). Actors often end up playing something more akin to Brooklyn. So we’re setting out to redress the balance. The only problem is that we’ve set up appointments with two women but still need to find a man to record. The challenge is on.

It’s an early start to catch our Amtrak train. On arrival we head for the Italian market in South Philly. Although some of the men can help us out, they won’t be finishing work until after 7.00 p.m. In order to record them we’ll have to miss our train back. Tricky call.

It’s time to meet our Philly women though: Jaime and Nancy (best friends). We’ve booked a small meeting room in a centrally located hotel where we have time to set up our equipment and run some acoustic tests before they arrive. They’re a delight and it’s an enjoyable session. Just before they leave, Jaime calls her neighbour, Gary, who’s also keen to record. He’ll be free in about an hour at his house in South Philly. Perfect.

There’s just enough time to dash down the road to see the Liberty Bell. The security guards are highly suspicious of Gavin’s suitcase full of recording equipment so we talk them through the project. We’re pretty good at explaining the app now: we talk about it wherever we go (shops, restaurants, airports, stations) and everybody wants to hear more. The security guards are no exception. There’s only just enough time to walk through the museum before they close for the day, followed by a mad dash to Gary’s house.

Gary’s accent is fabulous and we love his stories about Little League but there’s an audience: the wife and kids. It’s a challenge to keep everybody’s excitement to a quiet hush so, after we’ve finished, we let the kids play with the equipment.

Back to the station for our train to New York however, there’s a quick detour to the Rocky steps. Yes, I know it’s corny, but we did run up them. Waiting in the queue to board the train, Gavin comes up with the name for our app. It’s perfect.

Day 5: Brooklyn to London
We spend the day walking Brooklyn, catching up on some of the places Rick suggested to us. We love the diversity here and can understand why all the people we’ve met are passionate about the place. Then, it’s back to the airport for our flight to London. We feel there’s a third trip to be done (to increase the range of US accents on our app) although that’ll have to wait for a few months while we process everything to date (and make some more money to travel).

Final Thoughts
Yet another amazing trip because of the incredible people we met along the way.

Special thanks must go to our volunteers and their generous spirits: Rick, Christine, Frank, Elisa, Jaime, Nancy and Gary. However, we couldn’t have found them without: Rhonda Musak (Art & Soul Acting), Woody Wood (EarthLink), Jason Fried (Philadelphia Urban Adventures) and Jennifer Hensell (Philadelphia Tours). Thank you all.