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 notebooks ((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.)). 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 bread ((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.)) 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.

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