Central European Retrospective: Frague

November 13th, 2019

Yes, Frague. Pragueurt just doesn't sound right.

Where's Frague, you ask? Why, it's where you are when you've landed in Prague after trudging through Frankfurt, so your fun's all fraught with frustration. Frankfurt was going to have been a pleasant stop on a long list of German cities to be visited, starting with Munich and ending in Berlin, but moving through the country revealed insurmountable social problems; the kind that make even a few days' stay untenable. That we stayed in Frankfurt at all was largely due to the need for some rest, as rejecting cities one after another can really take it out of you. For my part, the rest mostly consisted of surfing the metro system to hunt for nouns (you know, people, places, and things) and reorganizing logistics to focus on the Czech Republic instead of Germany.

Some notable scenes along the way: it was quickly established that the Konstablerwache metro station and surrounding area is the local hang-out-with-open-bottles-and-slum-it-up pseudoparty spot. Not that all of Frankfurt doesn't have some portion of this non-scene, but Konstablerwache is the epicenter; with hundreds of people with nothing better to do bumming about, a pair of Turkish hustlers were working it so damn hard they actually hit me twice, in reasonably distant locations, in the quarter hour I spent there before ducking back onto a train.

Driving around aimlessly for an afternoon's entertainment, we crossed paths with an enormous truck exuding an enormous smell. Through tiny, barred slats near the top of the container, I spotted eyes. Enormous eyes, full of sleep and something I can only interpret as sadness, though I really want to believe it was anything else. I don't know if it was an elephant, or a bear...all I know is that it was very big, and I remain very haunted by the image, moved to nod along to Williams' prayer "for the wild at heart kept in cages". If only there were something redeemable, worth being sacrificed for, in that morass of confusion and complexity outside the bars....

I've not much to add in the way of pictures for Frankfurt, especially as what there was to be photographed mostly debuted on Trilema. This meagre offering is the repose of a given evening, perusing a very nicely illustrated book on birds while drinking an over-syruped Hugo at the hotel bar.

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The peace was soon disturbed by a group of very drunk conference-goers wearing lots of coats but not shoes and shuffling middleagedly to Depeche Mode.

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Oh, right, and there was this thing. Fuck this thing. It's tiny, it has no driver, and its front looks exactly the same as its back. So it'll just stop, and suddenly go backwards, as though that's what it intended to do all along. I'm not riding these things like I'm not having dogs with two heads and no ass. Probefahrt? I don't think so!

On which note, let's ditch this place. Prague took a couple of tries to be hospitable also, but it managed, which is good 'cause it's very much worth seeing. There are more monuments and historic buildings than you're likely to cram into an even generous schedule, but the real charm's in seemingly innocuous beauties like this apartment building entryway:

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Or in the embellishment of what'd probably be just another hrushceba in most European towns:

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Or on a set of seemingly random doors doing more homage to the arts and sciences than a thousand US universities:

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Or even in the institutional metro seat upholstery, lovingly embellished with the local castle and friends, and done in a pleasant purple1:

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This is not at all to belittle Prague's deservedly famous landmarks. Even if they are a little shy amidst the confangled whatsitry of the modern age.

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The past here knew something about construction, and the present knows something about caring for it.

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Prague's also, blessedly, not very pretentious.

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Possibly because it remembers harder times.

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With so much to look at, and a great deal of people to talk to, the Mucha Museum was put off for a few days, even, despite its having been the focal point of this city, as far as I was concerned, on first getting in.

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Most of Alphonse Mucha's glorious women are therein exhibited, sure --but they're a kind of screen print, which honestly leaves a lot to be desired in the way of examining the artist's hand. This seems obvious now, but I somehow wasn't quite expecting it, and I left feeling...unenlightened, though the visit was still very much enjoyable in a childlike sense. Unrelated to the museum, I picked up two very fine Muchasian artifacts so as to work on countering my rentally-enforced collection at home.

Before this, to keep things nicely out of order, The Juicy Bimbo and I went for a look at Charles University, founded in 1348 and rather hurting for students by now, judging from the ~empty halls. Maybe they're all busy being modern women architects?

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Know this: some doors are closed.

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But others remain open.

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...And space invaders are just waiting for you to drop your guard.

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Prague being exhausted for now, but hopefully not forever, we fluttered a handkercheif and prowled along back to Budapest, the central european buffer town, just in time for

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Thus ends another chapter of another tour of the vacation-within-a-vacation (with vacation frosting). More to come once the vacation from the vacation is over and we can get back to vacationing. I don't know anymore.

  1. When's the last time you saw anything but primary colors and shades of gray in institutional fabrics? []

Reading #ossasepia logs, or: my jig is up.

November 10th, 2019

My IRC channel, #trilema-hanbot, has been registered for some years, though as noted there it served solely as my testing grounds for a long-defunct bot. While it has ever been welcome to both the lordship and whatever stragglers the republic has accumulated over time, I never explicitly stated as such, nor did I take any steps to populate it. Mircea Popescu recently gave me the task of getting up to speed with Diana Coman's rather successful channel/castle, with a view towards cultivating my own. This was both a very pleasant and a very unsettling experience --unsettling in the literal sense, it shaking loose some rather long-held and not fully examined ideas and practices. In that order, then, allow me to recount.

I was aware that Diana had attracted and retained some folks intent on contributing to the republic, but I hadn't a clue of their quantity or quality. What a pleasant surprise to find several people clearly throwing themselves into the chaos and churn! What fun to set aside a few days to read logs peppered with others' struggles to read logs! I quite enjoyed discovering the often long, arduous journeys to speaking up recounted by Diana's pageboys --it's about as good a guide on "what's with/what happened to the lurkers, dabblers, and would-bes from back in the day?" as we could hope to get. I'm glad to see there's apparently a great deal to be salvaged from that heap, which was previously written off in my mind.

Moreover Diana's firm and level hand is remarkably fit for the sort of pedagogy herein desired. What particularly struck me was her precisely codified structure; featuring a straightforward pledge of submission and a clear hierarchy of development, the ossasepia castle doesn't leave its inhabitants much to remain in the dark about, as far as their own involvement and commitments stand. I'm curious to see how this works as a driver, and will be closely observing how the potential for love of title and recognition to poison love of work plays out, or doesn't.1

So why was the experience unsettling? Reading #ossasepia's logs made something very clear to me: as it stands, I am inaccessible. To wit, I found that one of Diana's recruits actually thought I might be a bot2. Moreover, discussions of setting up a home3 or sourcing irons in Costa Rica4, and of trading BTC in Panama5 didn't find me, nor I them.

In all honesty this enraged me at first, but then I realized my own, rather severe, culpability: I haven't been talking about any of this, nor making it clear that I'm available to talk about it. All there is consists of some (by now aged and by that reason suspect of irrelevancy) blog posts and milquetoast mentions in the logs. The cause for this vaguery is two-pronged: one is sheer laziness and neglect. This can be dressed up in whatever flavors and finery of "other priorities" you'd like, but that's neither interesting nor relevant. It's true that I have heavy offline duties, as the man himself has occasionally alluded to, even, but everyone has their own, and I'd be dishonoring the very duties I most respect and believe in if I used them as an excuse to slack in other areas that need attention. The second prong is my struggle to coexist as the functional head of Mircea Popescu's household and as a lord within the republic. Even attempting the description of these titles is daunting, inasmuch as they've fostered a great deal of tension for a long time. Who shall you know me as? Where do these roles overlap, and where may they not? Suffice it to say I've been steeping in these questions for years, and clearly I've not come to any useful conclusion.

Enough is enough, though. I cannot be useful to the republic or its members while things I could contribute lay fallow for the sake of what ultimately boils down to solipsistic thumb-twiddling. That it's taken me quite so long to give it up is shameful, and I'll work to make amends, if they can so be made. For many years the bulk of my output was invisible, and I suspect some portion of it will remain so, but meanwhile various things I never thought would be made public, have been. I intend to do a lot more testing of the borders therein.

This, for my part. For yours, dear lordship, I beseech you: lean on me, expect from me, as much as you would from anyone else. Take me to task if you see me failing or flailing. I am not fragile, nor should my proximity to MP exempt me from anything. I will grow with or without your help, but I'd much rather do it with. It'll be faster, anyway, and fuck knows I need all the speed I can get to keep up.

A page organizing and detailing my channel will be available Monday is available here.

  1. So far I'd say the majority of Diana's court is natively mature enough to avoid the problem. []
  2. It was perhaps forseeable that #trilema, like #bitcoin-assets before it, could and would use various bots, whether for logging or carrying out mundane tasks, but what can I say; hanbot had been my handle for ~all of my existence online, and for much of my life before I did much of anything online other than grief people in Diablo. I'll pay the price for the confusion, and assume the responsibility of making it more clear that no, I am not a robot, though I can dance like one. I'm not changing my handle, administer all the Voight-Kampff tests you want. []
  3. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. []
  4. 1 []
  5. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and I'm sure there was another even recently between Mircea and Diana that I can't now find, but at some point the exhaustiveness is truly exhausting. []

The Right Thing

November 3rd, 2019

The right thing fuzzes into being for most people sometime during childhood through some episode or other of a previously unperceived wrong going punished, and describing the right by its difference. Later in adolescence the struggle for the right thing often enough leads to blood and blows, or maybe experimentation with drugs, or running away from home, or what have you. The right thing rules life complete for the adult (not that all that many people mature into adulthood). There's no period of life aside from natality, and no state aside from sloth, exempt from the right thing's dominion --making awareness of the same an arguably decent prerequisite for being actually alive, or human, if you like.

Any familiarity with the Republic makes one likely to load a particular meaning for the right thing; the variety speak points to Republican separation from pretenders who came before, and who (fail to) coexist now, accepting to make their wine with some percentage of shit, to compromise integrity for convenience, and to stand behind nothing but a false-toothed grin. The right thing has often enough been summoned in discussion when ironing out the particularities of a piece of software or the branches and leaves of a system, but its practical and present use in no way cordons it off from its true scope, which is: everything.

Everything, terrifying as that may be. There is always a right thing, though it may not always be known or even approachable. What is anxiety, after all, other than the experience of a human mind confronting the uncaring vastness of the possibility of correct and incorrect? What is philosophy, other than the attempt to codify correct and incorrect, whether from the understanding of the universe, or of man within it, or of god above it, or whatever other angle?

And yet it's not merely the vastness of the right thing that lends to its horror; it is its separateness from us, its objectivity, that makes for who knows how many sleepless nights spent on this spinning globe. The right thing has no connection to what you'd prefer to be the right thing. No influence, no possibility of meaningful exchange, nothing. Neither is it subject to your conceptions, conscious or not, of what could possibly be the right thing, or whether or not you'd be capable of doing or even choosing it. It does not love you. It will never even know your name. Love of the right thing is the quintissential unrequited love; there's just nothing there.

But you love it anyway, because that's who you are --good for you. You're now welcome to spend every waking moment obsessing over which of the paths before you are right, from when and how and why to brush your teeth to which and whether and why not way to climb the stairs and so on and so forth. You're welcome to waste your life (can it be wasted on the right thing? better figure that out before the next question comes!) spending every moment looking for possibilities and choosing amongst them meaningfully and with confidence. Inasmuch as the potential rate of personally experienced phenomena is quite a great deal faster than your fly-brain moving through real time, you're in fact welcome to inevitably fail. Aww. And all you wanted was to do a good job, wasn't it?

A great secret of life, or perhaps it's not a secret and that's merely my personal collection of inadequacies fronting for the past lack of its obviousness to me, is that pretty much everything comes with, and is best described in terms of, two or more data points. You know, you bought fifty litres of gas, and gas is four euros a litre, the sort of details that allow you to get through the practical movements of life with some sense of what you're doing, and why, and how. Living with a solitary data point is the culprit of most states of ignorance and indigence. The same holds true for the right thing, conceptually; it's not just about whether a given thing is the correct one. It's also about whether it matters.

Holy shit, twenty-year old me is ranting furiously in the corner, tearing up bits of the phone book and frothing at the mouth, "what do you mean WHETHER it matters?! It always matters, what the fuck, just that question belies total traitorhood omfg where's the Captain Morgan?!"

For most of my post-pubescent life I held that the most important, sometimes the only important thing, was to always do the right thing. I also held that this wasn't actually possible, but the key benefit of time has been the realization that this impossibility is inherent in the system, and it is not a fundamental flaw of humanity that it cannot physically keep up. Rather, most people lack a way to determine when the right thing matters, and when it doesn't, so much; and manifest in either slovenly stupidity on one end of the spectrum or manic insanity on the other, most people fail at obtaining this second data point.

I'll dare to say now what I've been suspecting for a while, and what would've frightened me ideologically not even so long ago: those that fail at obtaining this second data point, and therefore at doing the right thing appreciably, have fairly clean crossover with those who fail to understand the role of management (or sovereignty, or whatever other mask you care to put on it). Because this is what management is for: to observe your struggle with doing the right thing, and to determine where you're faltering in applying your dedication to it. As a fanatic, you're naturally inclined to find management's determinations arbitrary and punitive. The true task before you is to decide, and to necessarily stand by your decision, as to whether or not the management available to you is sane1. If you're lucky, both the truth of the matter and your determination will be positive. If you're unlucky, one or both will come out with a dull thud.

Ideally, management should need only speak to you its findings to affect your course. Naturally, such smoothness is incredibly rare. How much of historical conflict is the result of the professedly managed needing more than a word to adapt to the determinations of the management? Other than particularities of the "professions" therein, it's necessarily one hundred percent.

I'm not entirely sure where to end here except to state that taking on the burden of both data points is an Atlassian task to which the vast, vast majority of people born on this planet will never be equal. The prayers, the wailings in the night, the starved children, the mangled, stray dogs, the incredible potential of sadness and ruin is but testament to the natural inadequacy of most to provide themselves, and their rings of people, with both data points. There's nothing bad or good about this; it's just the way it is, but I'd hope demonstrably so, for anyone who's had a look around. Be fucking humble, and keep your wits about you, when you encounter those who've assumed such terrible responsibility. The latter, because a great portion of even these will be bad; and the former, because there's nothing worthier of your time and your blood than those who are great.

  1. Yes, this means at some point T before the shit's hitting the fans so fast you're not advised to "decide" much of anything, just keep mopping. And yes, you are held to verify this decision now and again, as a regular part of your self-hygiene --but as a regular part, not as a reaction to managerial determinations you don't like. []

Central European Retrospective: Austria

October 30th, 2019

I'm technically still on the road, though I'll admit the criteria for "on the road" is getting very blurry by now. Is it on the road if you're living out of suitcases? I went from Costa Rica to Europe in two, and moreover to Argentina and Europe before that in even less. Is it when you don't cook? 'Cause I brought a bread pan this time around, no more choosing the least-evil ersatz from bakeries that forgot the world's oldest recipe. I've been to doctors, bought gym memberships, been out all night, stayed in all day and watched bad movie marathons...just about everything one'd think wouldn't fit into being on the road. I suppose the only meaningful difference is that I'm using my designated travel key; that'll serve as a useful marker. So then, quite provedly, I'm still on the road, and that's that.

But there's no law against reflecting while one's still in motion, even if you end up walking ass-first for a while. It ought to be noted that these images are at best faint and distant twig-lets to the far more comprehensive treatment of the same lands, monuments, and mischeviousnesses on Trilema.

Austria turned out to be a markedly less fucked in the head destination than expected (expected half for cynicism, and half for having been there a half-decade ago with different company, and admittedly rather different circumstances, none of which supported much depth of discovery).

Let's start, as is proper, with some soup.

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The Pumpkin Cream bisque at Porterhouse, in Vienna's little knot of capable restaurants near the Parkring: the best exokitchen soup I've had.

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A calendarclockbridgepaintingsculpture. It's not merely the language that's aglomerative in Vienna, you know. This was right before the malagavanillacandiedchestnutcoffeesundae, naturally. I'm not posting that, though. What if it runs out?!

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A reasonable monument including the names of noble horses, from a time before horses were given names as bad as sailboats.

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This'd be a repost, but it'd also be my favorite portrait of the on-the-road crew, taken at the Albertina a mere hour before we started leaving and noticed crowds gathering out the door, down the steps and around the block --it was the "Night of the Museums", see, free entry after 5. To think we came so close to Sardin-ia in the middle of the Osterreich!1

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A Hieronymous Bosch, and blue brocade.

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Some Egon Schiele. They had him in the same room as Reubens, which worked fairly well, I thought.

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The wee tramstop-tobaccoshop Schloss of Karlsplatz.

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Royal rose window repose, Viennese filtered sunlight, chickenwire lace.

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A reward for looking up in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, kunstkammer room.

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Forward display of the same.

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That wonderful and terrifying time I had Mircea Popescu both in front of me *and* over my shoulder. Oh yes, and there was also kaleidescopic cake.

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You suppose any English-speakers ever ordered the first item on the list? Why?

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A painting that made a day, to be held high in my heart forever. Never let the seemingly mundane pass by unquestioned, should some question arise; sometimes incredible rooms have rather unremarkable doors.

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A trio of trashy saccharine mementos, dimly presided over by Delicious Grandfather Diplomatico.

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Chestnuts along the river on Vienna's last day, or at least, the last day of that Vienna leg (we'd be going back later for the sake of the steak, not to be too confusing). Phenomenal roasted chestnuts, most welcome in the morning chill, husks opened with ease while eyes voluptuously followed curvatures of riverfront facade and hectic bargaining at the Naschmarkt.

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Joy and delight in the garden labyrinth of Schonnbrun. Have you ever walked the grounds of palaces with someone fit to own them?

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I had a dream, once, of being sent on a journey through these trained trees, by the very figure that walked me through them now; and the leaves were all turning, as they were, and I felt some notion of eternity trickle through. But the dream was sad, and the day was not, and I count myself as being very lucky, when the tally's in.

Vienna was nearly blacklisted on arrival, largely due to failures in planning, but quickly redeemed itself with amendment of the same. Much remains correct, there, whether you'd like to buy a hat, or see a horse, or feel humble in a museum hall. The strudel's entirely disappeared, though, be forewarned.

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The view from a hotel room in Linz. The sticker's quaint but the meaning ain't; there's beehives on the terrace, and their honey's for sale in the lobby. I rather liked Linz, though I score it as a weekend-coffee-country-drive-outing rather than a place to live per se.

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Runner-up pumpkin soup at the Postlingberg Schossl temple of preserved deer. The waitstaff uniformly begin each utterance with a very conspiratorial "SOOOoooo...".

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Possibly they know something about this butter knife pirate, terror of the seven spoons, that I don't?

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List of Rules on the Postlingbergbahn, something or other about steepness and blah blah people who've never driven in Costa Rica.

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It does, however, let off at an interesting spot.

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An interesting spot that leads to...yet moar bahns! Keepen ohn der trücken!

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The story was there's a "fairy land" at the top of the hill in Linz...

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...and it was no lie, though there was a lot less absinthe and sparkly body paint than I'd imagined.

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It was more like...Turkish Delight reimagined as an architectural theme.

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Oh, and with gnomes. Lots of gnomes.

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And a whimsical mini-pok Linzerplatz, why not. Each avenue therein led to some painstakingly put together depiction of a pair of German fairy tales. I'll let you do the 'dentifyin'.

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It occurs to me there's a fair amount of folks spending their lives on this whole subterranean children's interest painted maculature stuff. I wonder: is it the manifest failure of a greater idea above the surface? Could there be some genuine intent? At any rate, I find the whimsy + refuge childcave combination unspeakably sad, somehow. The post-apocalyptic abodes of people who, for reasons I don't know but might understand, have given up.

But I'm glad we went. It's healthy to see unspeakably sad things now and then.

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Sale case at the hilltop church where the past fewscore foregoings've been going on. Do you think there are any holy water connoisseurs out there, making cocktails at a pulpit basement bar?

If there were any in Austria, we didn't find them --the bars are stocked with entirely objectionable schnapps (rather ought to be a Eulora consumable, no?). Happily enough, there's sufficient pleasantry to make the objection a hand-wave instead of a fist. Austria's fine, in every sense of the word.

  1. All terrible joke complaints to be directed at the muses, pls. I just wear hats here. []

Narodni's No-No

October 29th, 2019

It's true that part and parcel of the way we travel is a general and vigorous avoidance of the overtly touristic. There's simply not that much that's organized with the purpose of mass entertainment that can actually deliver entertainment to those not fettered to the mass. Besides, wandering around wide-eyed through cookie-cutter "interests" with DSLR-bedecked livestock is how one meets...livestock, not natives. Essentially, there are a lot of stationary cruise ships in this world; all-inclusive, and all roped in to discourage you from wandering away from the group.

As with nearly everything, though, there are exceptions, one of the most prominent of which is probably the occasional trip to a museum. Noble, hallowed halls of my youth, tombs of wonder I'd always thought I'd want to work in, I love a good museum --but travel has taught me that the word itself, and even the auspices and trimmings, are largely a crapshoot. I'm not sure if it's a when, or more of a where, but at any rate the bar to museumhood seems to have lowered to depths rarely plumbed in other categories. To wit, the "Museo del Jamon" in Buenos Aires, if you like, or the utterly decrepit Brukenthal Museum of Sibiu, that bastion of Epson-delivered "masterpieces" and supernumerary ticket-checking interlopers.

Somehow, though, the complete and perfect failure of these museums that shouldn't makes them less offensive than museums that won't. You know, large, storied, monied institutions central to a city, which nevertheless have no real idea of what a museum is or what ought to go in it, or how. Sometimes, it's the shoddiness of the curation --a problem encountered mostly in Latin America, where art and artifacts are ubiquitously discussed in terms of their value to "the common man" rather than their own merits. Other times, it's a problem of policy: insane approaches as to whether or not pieces may be photographed and various other red tape fetishistic behaviors (beloved by the US and those doomed states still chasing the "ideals" of blue jeans and burgers).

Then there's the equally sad and infuriating example of Prague's Narodni Museum. Outside of Istanbul, I know no city more beautiful than Prague, its knack for line and curvature and smoke and sparkle licking every aesthetic joy I know at nearly every turn of the head. The Narodni Museum itself fits perfectly into this landscape, and crowns the very avenue that pumps blood and beauty into the New Town center. Everything is a scroll or an emerald, an epic pastoral stairwell or a waltz or windows and lanterns. I wouldn't even fault the place for having much less in the way of showpieces than structures; amidst empty rooms and corridors there's after all an eighteenth-century whale skeleton, and a very convincing (and comfortable!) yurt. I am satisfied with the thorough splendor of Prague enough to be entirely persuaded of its artistic accomplishments, even if the Narodni were quite literally devoid of any object at all.

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The problem is: they advertised having Tutankhamun's tomb. That'd be fine if they actually had it, but, you see, they...don't. It's not that they have it on rotation like so many museums around the world have had it now and then, and I'm a petty asshole begruding their lack of some eternal claim to it. No, seriously, the thing's not there, at all. It's just advertised. Incidentally, have you noticed that if something is described as being an "x experience", where x is some worthy or potentially interesting thing, which necessarily therefore requires care and thought and money to produce, there's therefore very unlikely to be any x in it? Yes, the Narodni Museum has, specifically, the "Tutankhamun Experience." I suppose I'd been geographically dazzled into a stupor deep enough to overlook that last word.

What this "experience" consists of is a couple dozen fragments of vases, tablets, and the like, several with accounting notes intact, and these are certainly worth seeing, even if they are significantly eclipsed by the collections to be found elsewhere.

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Accessing these fragments is an exercise in frustration, though, as they're peppered throughout a complex of rooms covered in floor-to-ceiling screens (yes, blocking the far more intriguing interiors of the museum) on which is displayed...

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...I don't know, I never watched much television and don't pretend to "learn things" on youtube, but I imagine this is pretty much how it goes, a shit-ton of stock footage with the occasional relevant graphic floating around in the foreground, different bits being mask-highlighted while some derp reads Wikipedia-level pseudotrivia on the audio track. And you...can't leave, see, it's the "experiential" part of the experience, you've got to stay in this room or that for this or that section of holy shit the audacity of the people who came up with this nonsense!

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Museums are places where people pay to see interesting items they otherwise wouldn't, and where people who know about these items take good care of them. A museum is not a cattle-herding set of hallways locking people into watching some graphic design student's sophomore year project. If you're trying to force things into being interesting to the general public by making it "relate to them", or fit into "today's technology" or whatever other bullshit, contentless paradigm, you're not a museum, you're a rube-cube, no better than a three-card-monte setup on collapsing tables. It's quite clear the Narodni bought this "experience" as some sort of license + materials package as opposed to coming up with the sham themselves. Their susceptibility to this in tandem with the manifest outcome of having had much of what would've been present, stolen, makes me rather sad, for the one fault is so deeply shameful, and the other so spotless, I don't want to look at the mottled, blemished outcome.

Prague doesn't need its experiences replaced or capped or capitulated by quotation marks. And I am certain this is true whether one follows the beaten path or not.

Untimed

October 27th, 2019

Splinter and spark, order and reason, source of all, end of everything:
All days are yours for your song.
For being numbered no day could compel me to remember, or forget.

A Black Forest

October 19th, 2019

In the Rohrbrunner Forest, somewhere between Munich and Frankfurt, in a truck-stop motel whose rented room is so stuffed with extra beds it immediately evokes the desperate case of some plurious, fantastically religious family swarming in a last-ditch effort to sleep without the non-activity managing to kill any of its members. Are we really that far off?

The whisps of fog shuttle by in slow processions out the window, masking and revealing thick depths of trees, all closing their eyes to the seduction of golden autumn. The stench of stale french-fries and industrial effort wafts along in tandem, ruining the fairytale. Sometimes the world seems to have disappeared in some such mists, though it's not so clear which cloud it's hid behind; when nothing works as you'd expect, is it you who's failed to understand nature? Is it nature that's failed to be comprehensible? The question comes through the woods, heavy but silent: does it matter?

The result, after all, is the same: surrounded at some hazy margins by castles, by fortresses, by great spans of bridge; and by rotting agglomerations of idiots, by fast-food multiplexes, by the towering ghosts of "solutions" that have more to do with professing to solve than either solving or even knowing what the problem is, here I sit, in a truck stop motel, forced into stasis. You can check out, but where will you go? "Please insert your credit card to discover more."

The difference matters. That is all we really know. Two false steps into the void of settling and you're there, in the swamp, offering excuses and ritual sins to gods made up by the mass of morons. The correct thing will kill you, it is certain; if not now, then later. After all, it has as much time as it'd like, and can bide while you must sleep, or blink, or yawn, or breathe. But you will die anyway, and the other scythes are neither sharp nor sensible. For as long as the burden-gift of life is upon you, it is your lot to seek to understand nature and to be heartbroken by nature's failure to be comprehensible.

Wednesday in Wien

October 5th, 2019

Wednesday; our third day in Vienna, our second evening at the Sacher Cafe, the first time I've been given a bra as a sort of tribute, rather than a convenience. Whose it was before doesn't especially matter, and despite a nascent exhibitionary glee I'm sure she'd rather keep the reality of wednesday catalogued in detail only by those who dragged and nudged her through it. It's not an especially toothsome brassiere in the first place, especially against the backdrop of the cafe where said bra and I first met, so let's get back to the Sacher.

Home of the eponymous cake, the cafe is a tight little series of brocade-upholstered rooms resembling triple-tall train cars tacked onto the Sacher Hotel, immediately opposite Vienna's opera house. Dark wood, cut mirrors, and gilded accents trick the space into being more comfortable, and the brightness of the red-and-white walls lends something of an imperial christmas feeling, if such can be said to be a feeling, not to mention even a thing. The coffee's superb, spiked or not, and the chocolate and apricot sacher is unassailable. They're open 'til midnight and make a grand respite from wandering for nightowls, but earlier in the evening they're packed. Two, three dozen tourists stacked in queues outside the doors, waiting in the 10C rain packed. Gratefully we had a reservation, and were shuttled right along to euphoria-with-no-waitin'.

The bra-bearer came along and the usual tug-of-war commenced. They venture a smattering of personal details they're not particularly interested in yet nevertheless feel obligated to present, as they're the primary constructs of what they think comprises their "personality". You pick an item here or there to sound the depths; you may get in one node, or if you've found someone compelling, possibly two or three. Mostly it's more like one-half. Not quite a node deep. The tug is snagged on mystery, is stuck circling around what some bit of patent leather is, or how far away some previous destination mentioned is from here, or the sound of a command, or even, post palpably, the sudden sense that this constructed personality isn't holding up so well. It's a tangled mess that typically ends in a dilemma: come further down the hole or run, regretting.

Wednesday produced a pair of protestations about the hour before almost immediate disavowal and latching on to whatever was lurking down the dark hallways we call home. Vienna has nice little bondage clubs inasmuch as their focus is on keeping things clean and being pleasant company, rather than trying to over-organize everyone and spending more time talking about nothing than doing anything at all. It was the bra-owner's first time doing anything at all, and it was fun to watch someone used to the talking and afraid of the doing approach the jagged horror of the transition. All this, though, was background noise for better things: public nudity and jail escapes; spreader steel and cowbells; shots paid for in kisses and bespoke chaps on chaps. The pleasure of an evening spent among people who can self-regulate their behavior without being insufferably boring was the real prize. No list of rules, but no slurry of obnoxious interlopers and vapid drunks, either. It's simple, but so very rare.

The bra is simple, but not rare at all, and I don't really know what to do with it. After struggling with the mere idea of taking it off for most of the night, the girl eventually didn't want it back for the world, and it's not like we could've just paid the taxi fare with it --or could we have? But no, it's not even sheer, or especially large, or pretty, it's the most unremarkable thing in my luggage, bearing only this story, which in a moment will, with the click of a button that doesn't even really exist, quit its exclusivity to the garment and stretch out into its own.

Vienna is pleasant precisely because such things don't belong here. The space left by the absence of the arguably-functional banal is possibly even enough to live in.

A Letter from Dad: "Can Pushing Make the Line Go Faster?"

September 19th, 2019

When I was 17, I had one friend with an Autism brother1. He would sometimes bring him with us on our local sojourns, one of which was to sit on a bench at the tiny park and just watch traffic go by.

We would sometimes make up names for people who walked/drove past: "Oh, look at the nose on this guy! That's Bozo Redondo." "Hair check, hair check! This crazy lady has a swivel head and can't hold still; Miss Sheveled.2 "

Frank was usually silent, but very alert and always in observation mode. I think that's where we/I learned to always be aware of our surroundings/environment. Watch and listen to make sense of the world. I am not sure where he was on the Autism spectrum; whereas now someone hyper-alert makes me nervous ("what? where is it? calm down!") back then it seemed to be a calming thing. We relaxed in to our seat on the bench and did not want to miss anything in the moment: just speculating/naming/watching the world go by....3

If you have many years of acute observation, travel, elements of culture, and can be calm enough to observe, one becomes adept at what humans have always done to interpret their world: categorization/labeling.

Of course, this is prohibited. It is "frowned upon" (etymology?)4 to make any kind of observation about a person/place/thing.5 Some cultures/genders/groups are especially prohibited. Jokes are also taboo; there are daily news stories about someone being fired/shamed/black listed due to some remark or joke.

Yes, I was fired from a radio job for making an obvious joke about females back in the NOW days. But that's another story for another day (and you've probably heard it)6.

Throughout my life, I've had people tell me "you can't say that!" "that's not fair!"7 "you don't know that person!" "we need to help that ___ and that's not helping!" One's observations are empirical, untestable, and always suspect. Nature or nurture...why would you say something like that? Were you toilet trained at gunpoint? What were you thinking...or were you? You need to see a Psychiatrist!

Anyway Frank, his brother, and I went to a concert at the Claremont Colleges (Pomona, which later sent me a thin two paragraph denial letter the same day a fat envelope arrived from Stanford) one night. I think it was John Lee Hooker?

We were standing in line ("on line" if you are from New York) and when they opened the doors, Frank kept muttering "Can pushing make the line go faster?" as the crowd was tightening/jamming to the doorway. It was the only time I saw him get upset.

As the crowd continued to surge towards the door, he started to escalate and got louder..."Can pushing make the line go faster?" "CAN PUSHING MAKE THE LINE GO FASTER?" "No! Can't!"

His brother pushed us out of the crowd. We ended up sitting on a lawn next to the tiny place and listening from there. We had space and were able to turn down vision mode and turn audio up to eleven.

Frank started a meme with his observation. It applies to many things in life and I sometimes use it to this day--fifty years later8. The next time you are out and about and in observation mode ask yourself: Can pushing make the line go faster?" and look around.

Whatcha doin?

-t

p.s. "1872, Darwin Emotions ix. 223 A man who joined us, and who could not conceive what we were doing, when asked to listen, frowned much."

* * *

  1. I'd edit this to autistic brother, but I'm not sure the implied embodiment isn't intentional --if some afflictions are more central to a person's self-expression than others, you'd expect autism to be rather in the "central" group, wouldn't you? []
  2. I find the particular talent for appellatin' so delightful I couldn't tell you. As a kiddo I always drew my dad with a mohawk, when I drew him, 'cause he was so cool, see. I don't think he ever actually had a mohawk (other than a plastic one on his motorcycle helmet), but I'll probably always represent him that way, in my head. []
  3. When's the last time you saw teenagers engaging in anything like this most natural and otherwise timeless behavior? Watching the world go by on the phone isn't quite the same thing at all, is it. []
  4. I'm not sure that this rather un-idiomatic idiom even has an etymology distinct from sufficient insufferables muttering their irrelevant displeasure, but in the few tepid attempts I've made to find out, I've come away shorn of my good intentions by the sheer mass of similar mutterings. []
  5. I think he's a little over-sensitive to the emissions of various mulae. Then again, I refuse to live where he does largely on the basis of not wanting anything to do with the mulae, or at least on the basis of having a reasonable expectation that I can tell them to fuck off without some long-tail stream of personal inconvenience to myself. []
  6. Well technically this letter came in yesterday, and today's a new day, and the story's most definitely worth repeating, so here you go, drudged up from my archives:

    "KAYS, Hays Kansas. I was the morning announcer in my first
    job. KAYS was the only station in Fort Hays, Kansas (it was a
    radio-TV station where I also learned how to direct TV and was
    occasional weekend weatherman).

    Short jokes and funny stuff were a big deal in the 1970s and I used to
    try to throw in remarks, etc. This was conservative mid-america, so
    had to be careful of course.

    I told some risque stuff now and then and the station did what many
    midwest stations did by banning certain records (I remember "Tonight's
    the Night" by Rod Stewart being expressly forbidden. I got in trouble
    for playing the Isley Brothers once too).

    Anyway, I got called in to the manager's office, suspended for a week,
    docked pay, and then had to go back to the manager's office and
    apologize to the Kansas President of the National Organization of
    Women (NOW) because of a what I said talking with a news man.

    In those days, the "top of the hour" 00 to 05 on the hour, every hour,
    was news, farm report (barrows and gilts! I had no idea what those
    were when reporting prices...sorghum included!), and weather. Then
    the reporter would "throw" it back to the announcer with a "kicker"
    story--something funny or unsual or light news.

    He finished with a story about the first woman astronaut having just
    launched. So I said,

    "This is great! We have a woman astronaut, a female priest was just
    ordained, women are doing great things...I just don't think they
    should be allowed to vote!"

    Bam, right in to a record.

    Phones lit up, secretary comes in and says "Why are all these people
    calling the station?" etc.

    I just kept repeating to everyone, "it's a joke! it's not serious,
    it's a joke!" But almost got me fired from my first job.

    ...so there's my contribution to Woman's Month." []

  7. I really hope I didn't add to this pile of insanity as a child, but I shamefully have my doubts. []
  8. I actually remember Dad asking if pushing makes the line go faster throughout my childhood; waiting to get into the Del Mar County Fair, approaching Spike & Mike's "Sick n' Twisted" Festival of Animation, boarding my first plane to Europe.... []

Easterly Travelogue

September 13th, 2019

I'm back from two-and-a-something months abroad, a vacation-in-a-vacation, you could say, head and body just now burbling back to the surface after a pair of double-digit sleeps. The level of normalcy in the atmosphere is returning to something more like what I'm used to. Docked at my desk in the coffee-themed socks I bought in Poland ("Praga praca ale kawa sama sie NIE wypije" they say on the soles, and yes I read that upside down on my foot just now, no-one can say I've never suffered for this blog.). Trashed from the return to my regular gym program. Floating on the leftovers of the five-kilo Varza a la Cluj I made in the dutch oven, and the four-gallon chicken soup we put together afterwards, didactic vegetable soux-ing inclusive. My desk is all stacks: unanswered mail, undelivered edits, unopened notebooks1. It mirrors my mind with all its un-s: the unanalyzed fiascos and flights of joy, laid aside until there'd be time (now) to process them; the uncemented intentions, the unspoken desires. Touring is all shorts. Short notice, short on time, short delivery from the people who must, as a condition of travel, be relied upon to deliver. Just so, returning is a deep stretch, in which everything collected must be collated, and abbreviations must make room for all the letters left up on the shelf.

Some things I wish I'd known before leaving: well, principally, that Oslo sucks. The definitive report on the matter has already been published, and I won't beat the nag, but merely reinforce the idea that the world is wide, and when confronting something like the emergency-grade taxi queue at Oslo's airport the choice to kill it with fire or move on is the correct set. The choice to "give it a second chance" and spend one's resources searching for potential redemption is almost guaranteed to be fruitless. Sometimes one's subject is important enough to warrant this spending and searching, but Oslo sure as fuck wasn't.

Secondarily, I wish I'd known that leaving my hunting knife behind would cause buckets of grief. Along with palatable water and bread without lots of "improvement"-driven ingredients that have no business being in bread2 knives that actually cut seem to be going out of style, at least in the east. The things vaguely resembling knives in our Minsk apartments were barely fit for cutting cream. In Kiev, as I recall, the very procurement of anything cut-able was so laughably difficult as to not require noticing the flimsy foil-like item offered as a "knife". Warsaw delighted us with regular switchamaroos of not-quite-knives by the maids, who eventually left us entirely knifeless, and could not recover one despite literally running up and down the hallways sneaking into other rooms to search for them. I don't quite remember how many knives we ended up buying for a few days' use, or how many times we were obliged to hide them from cleaners.

Much more importantly, I wish I'd known how much I'd come to regret not having my keys on me. The keys that drive my connection to the Republic and allow me to publish are apparently precious enough to me that I made them sit in the closet while I went out wandering, a sort of paranoia-driven abuse that began haunting me about two weeks in and worsened by the day. In truth I didn't know just how long I'd be out --but if anything that was reason to make myself a set of keys in miniature rather than to dismiss their use entirely.

All that out of the way, then, here're some shots from sorta-middling-out-East-ish, entirely out of order:

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Sticker wall in bathroom stall, Kiev. Sticker scene's kinda weak, with maybe the exception of that бити тату guy an' his inky dogs.

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Also in Kiev, abuzars of taste and decency.

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There was a confusedly-operated little patio restaurant that won us over on account of offering proper soup all day and having excellent hachapuri. I caved on the third visit and translated their menu to english so we could try something(s) else. With, y'know, the soup.

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My sillhouette some late night in Old Town, Warsaw. It struck my fancy at the time, but now, I confess, all I see is age, is oldness --but I suppose I should've expected such trickery from shadows, after all.

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The Warsaw mermaid, whose shadow merely animates.

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I can't read Polish, but I'm pretty sure if you have more than five teaspoons of lorry in your car here, the whole thing's gonna explode. Careful.

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It's not so much that they're tasked with holding up a bunch of junk as it is they can't seem to find their own.

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Death by pierogi round 84928507. Interesting tidbit about pickles in Poland: nobody will admit to having them. Do not ask for pickles. Demand sour cucumbers, at which point you'll probably receive some overly-cautious presentation as above. Ever been served a solitary pickle in a silver gravy train before?

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King Quack Kossack, probably, in his rightful repose.

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I don't remember why we stopped at the Deli of No Way, but no, we didn't.

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Chlodnik monster. The important part about being a responsible adult is going to formal old-world restaurants and shamelessly playing with your food.

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On the way out of .pl, I sat in front of this disaster at the airport for a while. Challenge: point out anything, anything at all, that isn't blatantly wrong with it. I particularly liked the "arrows" you're supposed to follow, pointing all over the goddamned place. In an hour of waiting nobody gave it a second look (insert sad Casio synth two-noter).

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The last time I'll have the pleasure of donning a sheep on my head, Budapest. Cornelius, you are remembered!

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An especially pompous Hungarian wine menu. The problem with copywriters is that they could be anywhere, even right next to you.

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Portrait of Oslo.

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Barbican seam in sodium splendor, Warsaw.

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Pie jokes are not allowed in Minsk.

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Cafe de Paris, ул. Карла Маркса, port and djarum.

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Wall sconce chintz product placement, Belarus. Because I'm a slave.

Tudeloo.

  1. There's a certain neurotic bliss in having fresh, new notebooks available when one's been living out of the butchered, by now indechiperable chaos of traveling notebooks for months. []
  2. The specific traditions of breadmaking that vary by place and culture are especially interesting to me, such that the utter lack of real bread --that is, something baked from flour, salt, and yeast, and ***nothing else***, no sodas, no sugars, no preservatives or MSG or any of the shit-- in this excursion was perhaps more of a disappointment than'd seem rational. The Georgian minorities in Minsk and Kiev were doing the best work in terms of delivering something like actual bread, but close as it got it was still obviously adulterated. We eventually caved and bought pans so I could bake in our hotel. []