Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Central European Retrospective: Frague

Wednesday, 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? []

Central European Retrospective: Austria

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

A Black Forest

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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.

Easterly Travelogue

Friday, 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. []

Transfagarasan

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

Whaddya know, just as I'd been sitting down to write a recap of the multi-month journey to the East, a whirlwind of cash, paperwork, and the machinations of our favorite adventurer produced a midnight blue Mercedes and galloping orders towards Transylvania. "But can we go via that super awesome twisty famous mountain crazy road?" "Obviously." The larger recap's still coming, but what can I do; life is sometimes super awesome and twisty, shit gets out of order.

First, we went to Sibiu. Like most towns in and among the mountains, it's the historic center that's of interest, but staying there may mean huffing thirty kilo suitcases up fifteen percent setted1 grades. And the hotel said it had no gym. Meanwhile, admire below the establishment's creative bathroom placement:

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On the advice of a local psychiatrist (our date, not our doc), we went to a place called Oldies, an odd mix of wannabe biker dudes in studded leather and flip-flops and Zara-bedecked after-work sangria drinkers. It was a poem to things that don't go together, including AC/DC and The BeeGees, cheap whiskey and amaretto, and the poster collection lining the walls.

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Here's one for Mom. Hi Mom. Do you think we should ring for a pallet?

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As the owl demands, so we acquiesce. It helps that he controls the flow of coffee.

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Back in Florimund2, the route takes a fortuitous turn off the beaten path to Brasov. Pokey3 is nervous but a little excited....

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The Transfagarasan (DN7C) was opened in the mid-seventies and was one of the major accomplishments of the communist regime, at least if you'd asked them. It connects Transylvania with Wallachia and winds through some very pretty places indeed, with only the occasional kilometer of pavement in need of a little work. In general it was remarkably smooth.

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I've always wanted to drive it, particularly for the past few years in which the back seat's been occupied by a calm, steady voice unfazed by high speeds. When I drove in the US I got a lot of grief for going over 80mph4; since I started driving again in Central America I've happily found it's generally accepted as the minimum. As it turns out, I didn't manage to go anywhere near that fast on this particular road between the hairpins and the tourists in '95 Dacias, but it was still a thrill.

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"You need a break already?"
"Whoa! That was dizzying. I almost lost my oat milkshake!"
"Don't be such a wet noodle, we have a long way to go yet."
"I'm noodly by nature!"

Off again, through the trees. The summer heat in Romania has been insufferable, but up here it's a cool 23, crisp and sublime.

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Sheer drops and shitty drivers abound. As much as the Transfagarasan would be spectacular for motorcycle riders, lemme tell you 75% of the cars I got stuck behind were way, WAY over the median on every single blind curve --do it at 5am or forget it, I think.

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It's a nice view if you can get it.

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"Hey, I think the famous hairpin spot is up ahead."
"Yippie! Look, no horseshoes!"

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Thar she blows, obscured but present. The shining rocks throughout aren't wet, but rather feldspar- and quartz-bearing schists. It's El Dorado, just about.

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Heading on up, into the schists and the mists.

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The view from up top.

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The money shot.

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Pleased as punch.

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"Are you napping?! We've still got a ways to go!"
"I'm just resting my eyes...."
"Hop to, Pokey!"

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"Okay!"
(Yes, the road, at the top of all that business, warns about...curves ahead.)

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We were lucky enough to spot no less than three curious bears on this excursion. This guy was the clear winner for showmanship, what with his snaggletongue and attempts at dancing for snacks.

We stopped for some snacks of our own, and decided to turn around rather than insist on gunning for Curtea de Arges --maybe another time. For now, a fond farewell.

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  1. Setts are cut into shape; cobbles are unworked rocks or pebbles. Until being corrected a few weeks ago I'd been calling setts cobbles every damn time. It's not as fun of a word to say, I guess, but it's got the whole double t thing going, so I'd say it's not a total loss. []
  2. Florimund the Mercy, that is. []
  3. Pokey the Horse, geez, try to keep up! []
  4. I'm sure the Honda Civic and Nissan Frontier didn't help --especially the kayak mounted upside-down atop the latter. []

Impression of Minsk, July 5th

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Minsk is gray sheets of rain worse than the moods it provokes. Sideways, stinging, down the broad avenues flanked by hollow concrete giants, the rain finds a way into your eyes, into your packages, wherever you'd least like it to go, whenever is least opportune.

In a bout of moving apartments across the hruscheba courtyard to the better place1 the rain returns, heavier than before, somehow thirsty for suitcases and the shopping bags full of milk, nectarines, bread, and Georgian (read: undrinkable) mineral water.

The atmosphere in July is twice the Januaries of my childhood; twice as cold, twice as gloomy, twice the daylight hours, twice the misery. I misspeak at every other corner, and fail to smile at all in between. All my pleasures here are inward, in private jokes, in stolen glances, in imagined pasts that did not and can never now exist.

Minsk is an egg abandoned, without a nest to keep it warm, or eyes to watch over and wonder at what sleeps inside. Were the place not so subject to the volatile whims of the gods that go scuttling by on their way to someplace else, perhaps the beast could be coaxed to come out. Perhaps something more than surface could wink into being, bare between the birches, wind in the feathers of gliding gulls.

Perhaps if it were winter, and Minsk was in her element, not forced to pretend about sun and smiling, perhaps then it would be still enough to show itself. If all the idiots were made to stay indoors, and the big soup pots were brought down from imaginary attics, if the noise of traffic ceased and the buskers went home to practice more...if the playgrounds were empty for an obvious reason and the fact I came here without a coat would be a death knell and not an uncomfortable inconvenience...then perhaps she could break from her shell and I would know her.

Until then, I sit on the wide kitchen windowsill waiting for the rain to stop, or admiring the cartoon baked-potato man2, watching old buses like wheeled cinder-blocks streak slowly down the street. It is not yet, here. Simply not yet.

  1. That place I dismissed on the first pass because six of its seven pictures featured the same purple couch --a nice couch, but by then far too conspicuous, as though it were hiding some darker secret among its deep purple brocade. []
  2. Kroshka Kartoshka! []

A Thermo-Rental Odyssey

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

When I first lived in Romania I called the kitchen-cum-living-room I spent most of my time in "The Orange Spaceship" on account of the shocking citrus blinds that coated the room in rod-n-cone obliteration by day. At night the berth was a somewhat more serious sodium carmine affair. The walls were bright yellow, the couch was bright red, and I found an excellent pair of sunglasses that year, incidentally.

Imagine my chagrin, then, on introduction to Chez Vozvrashchenie; yellow walls, admittedly a little more lemon cream than 'lectric skullfucker, and orange-as-she-comes drapes, filtering the light into the kind of shade you hear before you see. The door, inset with dithered plexiglass1, cast neon orange shapes on the opposite wall outside, a warning, perhaps, to ungoggled adventurers.

I replaced the drapes with thick black floor-length brocade, grounding the Spaceship 2.0 in one fell swoop, but I'm still at a loss as to how to approach the remnants of that alien civilization, consisting primarily of three...things some Brigaweird General thought fit to hang on the walls. Send help!

Exhibit A:

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A charming snapshot of Sol wringing the last tears out of the terran landscape, the thirsty death to come foreshadowed by rib-like ripples in the foreground's dunes. The sky's intense blues suggest cool water never again to be savored --at least, not in this room.

Exhibit B:

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Nuclear apocalypse in fiery zenith! Behold the orange intensity dividing shrubbery from topsoil; the righteous from the evil-doers; the obedient from the dissenters? Also, I suspect (when squinting, anyway) the center semi-circle may originally have been an attempt at a chaos star. Who wouldn't want to fall asleep and wake up to such a pastoral portent?

Exhibit C:

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Nefertiti looks on, decapitated and utterly unimpressed, as the procession of the KKK Dromedary Corps traverses Giza. That is, Giza Island, where the Corps presumably battles against the predominant brownness of the environment and the disappearing surface area, requiring a constant smooshing together of the perilously close pyramids.

Would you believe me if I said that furthermore, the sheets that came with the place depict black silhouettes of snowmen, reindeer, and gift-wrapped boxes on a white foreground festooned with "holyshitisthataSPIDER!!1" black stars, too?

  1. Ever notice how things officially described as "Design Elements" are necessarily devoid of elementary design? []

калемегданoцорвид

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

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There he was, plucking himself through the overgrown grass and dandelion tuffets crowning the fortress like the fuzz on an old man's head. "He looks like a duck!" I hear now, gathered around the display, something I thought myself behind the lens. He eventually caught something in the haze, strange gait apparently paying off.

What can be said about his home? It's the same place, nominally anyway, I first saw twelve years ago, towering over the confluence of the Sava and Danube, a brick boot towering over a soft and cowering pair of worms. The chestnut trees and mulberries still make the place feel like any other municipal park in this part of the world (though they're maybe a mote too neat and perfect, if one takes the time). The same sodium lamps, illuminating for all below what, up top, becomes a piercing orange eyesore still shine on at night. Memorable warning signs ("bricks fall from this vault!", etc) retain all their officious unheedability.

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And the town wrapped around it, the town that owes everything to it, as many yet do, still knows the art of overcast better than any other place I've seen. Belgrade is gray, and knows no other color until it's been put to the question a little. The same frivolous beauty and monumental brutalism comingle. The old broad streets are just as inviting for a walk against the wind. The nato-bombed building not far from downtown still looms, torn and sooty, over its resident block.

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I used to hop the train to Belgrade a few times a year by special order, often alone. I typically felt lost, amidst the language and the cold, desaturated landscape. It was a place that venerated things and ideas I didn't know, or didn't know much about, and frankly I wasn't all that interested, being overwhelmed by local points of interest back "home" to the east.

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The line, tempting, offers itself: nothing external really changes, only you do. But like all trite and obvious prosaicisms it's a half-truth, or possibly more like a quarter-truth. Yes, the passage of time has allowed me to spend more interest, to recognize more signs amidst the static. I feel less lonely in Belgrade, because I'm more lonely the rest of the time, because I'm more accutely aware of how alone I actually am.

But in the city itself there are real differences; the war machines were not laid out on the inner fortress lawns so long ago --were they stored, like decorations for a combative christmas tree, in some old cobwebbed basement? Neither was the "dinosaur park" in place back then; not that it's anything but out of place now, what's changed is it's there, a platoon of fiberglass models to some scale varying inside the modeler's head. The tyrannosaurus roars unconvincingly every fifteen seconds through a tuna can speaker hidden somewhere in the wood chips.

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Somehow the recipe for bread has been forgotten meanwhile. That happy memory of waking up in Belgrade to brave the chill for kefir and croissants will stay a memory, now; every пекара is a Fornetti front, a case full of margarine-laminant and naught else. The postered kiosks call out dates for bands I wouldn't see, much less lament having missed1.

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My time in Belgrade still seems, this tenth or eleventh instance, a trip through numerous hallways. Some lined in the old brass handrails and ancient smoke of hotels, some with the tall facades of department-stores-cum-science-academies, others with impermeable walls of people, not hostile but not friendly either, the occasional immigrant breaking through. All the city is a series of hallways leading to the kalemegdan, where the windows are thrown open and one can finally see, but only the kind of seeing achieved from a distant throne: vast summaries of life, detached and impersonal.

  1. Sometime in 2012 or thereabouts I spent a sad, eventless Friday night in Belgrade by myself, only to find a VNV Nation flyer posted in town the next morning, for the night previous. I just stood there for about fifteen minutes looking at it. Yes, it was gray. []