Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I'm not from there but it's where I was born

Friday, April 9th, 2021

The little apartment was set in the village of Giroc; a tiny, dusty, and thoroughly alien enclave possessing, at the end of a long poplar-lined road that connected it to the city, a single, pell-mell grocery store, and a rusted bus stop. The trees were uniformly coated with whitewash to two feet of their trunks. Their branches were uniformly pruned back with a severe hand, leaving little, it seemed, for the poor plants to work with. Heavy dust from the fields nearby joined with the constant autumnal chimney smoke to make the atmosphere thick and fragrant, and the sun in the afternoons was a ruddy blanket filtering redly over the rooftops.

On my first day I was taken to the house of the landlords, on the large property that sat behind the little cluster of efficiency apartments. The woman of the house ran it: kitchen, children, expenses, renters, conversation. Her husband receeded into the background like an overstuffed piece of furniture, while his parents, superlatively wrinkled, superlatively silver and white, tried with gummy smiles and incomprehensible interjections to goad me to speech. I could understand neither them nor the landlady, of course, nor my master, who spoke to them loudly, and apparently with great hilarity. They laughed often, and I tried to match my face to theirs --why, I do not know. Later I was scolded for not talking. I was told that people would think there was something wrong with me if I didn't "join in". I wondered how I was expected to join in a conversation in a language I didn't speak. It was not the first of what would grow to be many guilty confusions, but it was, perhaps, the first time I had felt it so personally, publically. I was quiet and ashamed.

Inside the apartment was a small folding bed, an antique wooden desk with great drawers capable of organizing much more than I had, a stand-alone closet, and two small chairs with a table. A window over the desk looked out onto a desolate strip of dirt and retaining wall, and the view reached over and into the street if one stood up while approaching it. Two identical doors at the far end of the room led to either a tiny bathroom or a tiny kitchen, each with tiny appliances. The shower consisted of a quarter-circle marked off in one corner with a faucet above it; the kitchen held a two-burner camping stove connected to a compressed gas can, and a miniature refrigerator.

After introducing me to the main house and walking with me to the small disorganized market --where he bought farmer's cheese, sour cream, bell peppers, and bread--, master spent a few moments with me in my new home, which primarily consisted of showing me how to make sandwiches out of the bought ingredients. I found them strange, randomly composed, but palatable. He left, taking a set of keys with him, and I wrapped myself into my oversized velvet trenchcoat, and willed myself to sleep.

I slept, over the next four days, in strange fits of time unbounded to the light outside, or lack thereof. Near-total silence entombed the place, such that the odd, distant echo of some other tenant's phone call, or the passing of a lonely car down the dead-end road in front of me was eventful. I popped up like a prairie-dog to see if such cars were maybe a taxi, bearing Him. I squinted against the foreign sounds of speech, as though by listening harder I would understand more. There was no internet connection; I had no outlet adapters for my laptop anyway. Disconnected from the world I had left, and with nothing to mindlessly entertain me in a familiar and thus comfortable way, I wandered airy halls of thought that eclipsed the small room I was in. I wondered what would happen, and how long it would take to occur; just-so, wonder without speculation, unspecific. I wondered why I was alone. I wondered what the people I'd left were doing, thinking.

Eventually, somewhere in the marginless soup of days I took out a paper bag-wrapped book my Dad had given me when I graduated high school. It was his journal from the first years of my life, written for and dedicated to me, and after a later childhood pockmarked by his near-total departures from my life, I coveted it. I pored over stories of his arguments with my mother, of his descent into drinking himself sick, of his many attempts to climb out of it. That I could read, in his own hand, his own thoughts, usually so inaccessible behind a wall of appearing well, and that so often, too, his thoughts had been about me --at least for the purposes of the book-- was the most indulgent, gratiating catharsis I could've imagined, then. I read through it several times.

It was almost a week before I saw my master again. He'd wanted to let me catch up on sleep, he said. It felt like a sort of abandonment-by-caring, a strange thing, but then I didn't have all that much time to dwell on it. As the visits came, my ventures out into the alien landscape really began, and intensified. I quickly discovered the scrawled, highly abbreviated schedule written, crossed out, and written over again endless times at the bus station was something I had to memorize. At seemingly random times of the day, my master would command me to meet him in the big town of which Giroc was a tiny satellite, and I'd have to tell him when I'd be taking the bus to get there. The first time he asked, and I didn't know, he had me walk the couple of miles to the station to look. In the time it took me to get there and back I missed the relevant bus trip. I was punished.

At first I took a picture of the schedule. But when he'd ask me when the bus going back was arriving in town as we were walking, my fumbling for the camera and sorting through pictures to find it proved unacceptable. So I wrote it all down on paper, though I transposed some numbers a time or two and finding the folded-up bit in my purse wasn't particularly better than spelunking for the camera. I committed the thing to memory. The departure and arrival times were wildly different from one day to the next for no apparent reason. I struggled, but after days of treating the schedule as the most important thing in my life, I got it down. A week or so later the man announced in town that he was going to come "back home with me", a rare and highly prized event. I told him when the bus would be there to pick us up; ten minutes late, the bus still hadn't come. Another five after that, he told me how disappointing it was that I couldn't handle such a simple thing. He took the pound of cookies we'd bought and turned on his heels, walking away without a goodbye, the typical foreboding cloud of deep trouble to come later on. I rebelled furiously but silently, hot tears immediately washing over my face. But like a miracle, the bus appeared rounding the corner, and I shouted for him, eventually daring to use his name as I waved my arms and pointed to the big yellow savior.

There were other actors in the bizarre stageplay my daily existence had become --at least, on those days when my master came, or called me out, and took me out of the tiny apartment in the hazy orange fields. He had hired a lawyer, for reasons I didn't at all understand, who likewise was responsible for so many tasks that our visits to his office were done multiple times each week. In later years we would become friendly, but during that hard initiation to life, he didn't look at me when we entered his office. He didn't speak to me --in fact, nobody in the office did. I sat off to the side and tried to pick Romanian words out edgewise from the ensuing storm of their conversations. Once in a while I managed to hear an "and", or the polite form of "you" (a blessing of five syllables, making it hard to miss). Or I tied myself in knots attempting to remember the lecture I'd just received on the walk over --these were always expected to be remembered verbatim, and just as often they seemed orders of magnitude beyond my ability to recall for both length and complexity. What I knew best was that I knew nearly nothing, but here were explanations of air insulation, microprocessor fabrication, comparative ethnography, the cellular level of kidney functioning, metaphysical notions of the self. I was spellbound but helpless. Climbing the crumbling, ricketty stairs to the lawyer's office, my eyes would frantically wander over the penciled graffiti and penknife-carved lettering covering the handrails and the walls of each floor's landing, as though somewhere in there I'd find a helpful note, a clue to unlock the mystery, or at least, to lock my memory to it.

Often the lawyer visits were accompanied by trips to the bank. The banks employed women only, from tellers to managers, and they were uniformly overdressed, overperfumed, and unsmiling. One male was allowed --a silver-haired security guard, who looked utterly incapable of confronting a conflict either with deed or word. Here too was a place where none of the staff either talked to or looked at me. Though I was glad of it, the bank being an interminable waiting room in which everything that was done required multiple stacks of paperwork and at least three different kinds of stamps --sometimes from my master himself, which was especially perplexing. At one point, after spending nearly an hour at the bank despite there having been no other customers, I remarked that he sure did seem to buy a lot of boats --for I couldn't imagine what other transaction could possibly require so much paperwork.

More inaccessible and mysterious still than any of these actors was the woman I knew my master was living with. After the tumultuous failed meeting six months before and half a world away, I still did not meet her, or hear much of anything about her. I was ravenously curious, but I kept myself from prying in the hopes that by being civil --a thing I equated mostly with being quiet--, I could encourage an eventual resolution, and maybe even friendship.

Slowly I began venturing outside on my own when the man wasn't taking me out, though I stayed squarely within the confines of Giroc.

I walked the dusty grid of homes that made up the village. A few seemed lived in lovingly; a couple or a few decades old, inaugural painted motif still visible above the garret window, grape vines covering little trellises outside with the early, fresh sort of maturity that only such vines can evoke. The rest of the houses were either so old their patched roofs sagged and caved faster than repairs could be made, piles of bricks, shingles, wooden shutters, and peeled paint gathering at the corners and doorframes, long-established garrisons of weeds daring the trespass of maintenance. Or they were new and awkward, betraying strange geometries that broke the eye and especially the spirit of the village. Their roofs were oddly slanted, their windows narrow and long or round and convex. Everything about them was purposefully mismatched, as though blindly chosen from some catalogue of parts --which is precisely how they were built.

Dotting this admixture of the ancient, the infantile, and the lonely in-betweens were the hobbiest erections, the houses-to-be. Great slabs of gray concrete festooned with rusting rebar jutting angrily in all directions, these buildings were always the most visibly occupied, for there were groups of men climbing them or huddling around the screaming concrete-mixers sitting in their yards. Now and then a bare bulb from such a property sliced through the gloom of my walk's dusk, sharpening the universally creased and consternated faces of the workers and casting inky shadows across the vague dreams of happiness being built there.

The penetrating scent of burning wood pervaded all. The garrish, new homes --like mine-- were fitted with gas heaters, but the rest were warmed by ceramic fireplaces. These churned through massive piles of freshly cut wood stacked on the sides of older houses, and the thick heady smoke threw all of Giroc into a more distant century, in a place further still from civilization.

It was on one such walk that I was first accosted by a local male. Frustrated, perhaps, or maybe merely acting out the social imperative dictated to him by the rest of the place. He was a short man, bald, but not apparently old enough to be so. His shiny, dark brown skin stretched tautly over his face in a permanent collection of smiles. He dressed up by Giroc's standards; his black shoes always glistened, his pants were pressed and bore a razor-sharp crease. I ran into him several times in the village's infinitessimal convenience store, a closet in a small corner house which opened up to the street, where you could buy a piece of candy or cigarettes, or use the much-loved instant coffee machine. Sometimes while on a walk and wishing to warm my hands, or growing bored at the bus stop waiting on a late trip to town, I would duck in for a completely objectionable, chemical cappucino --and often, the man was there, chatting up the unresponsive clerk, or standing just outside and smoking, waiting for someone to show up so he could launch interminable volleys of smalltalk at them.

For me, the smalltalk was useful. It taught me new words without being so advanced as to instantly kill communication. I was embarrassed of myself, of my poor grasp of the language. I blushed and laughed and was interested enough in his banal offerings that I hardly wonder at all whether I gave the wrong impression. One night, walking home from the bus stop, the man asked me over to his house. It was the largest, newest atrocity in the village, a shining, slanted modernist wreck that commanded the awe of the villagers. I declined. He insisted, for coffee, just like at the convenience closet; he had the same brand of cappucino at home, he told me, with a conspiratorial smile. I told him, as I had several times before, that I had a master, and that I couldn't go to other men's houses. He was quiet a moment, then shook his head emphatically and wrinkled his brow while he pantomimed sex with his hands --with one fist he made a hole, and with a clump of stubbly fingers pierced it with the other again and again. "No, no, no," he said as he gesticulated, and then his face brightened again. "Cafea." And his hands flattened and flew to the sides, dismissing their puppet play. When I declined again, he made a gruff little noise somewhere in his throat, and after a moment threw his arm out and grabbed my breast in his hand. He squeezed it frantically for just a second, then turned on his heel and wordlessly walked away towards his home. He never spoke to me again.

My first months in Giroc --almost entirely out of touch with the world I'd grown up in, with a new latitude, a new language, a new relationship, a new purpose-- found their focus not as much in acclimation as in backtracking. Twenty-two years of an American life had persuaded me into a certain slowness of thought and movement, a certain mindless adoption of mores and taboos that I wasn't especially well-equipped to investigate, much less defend. I was embarassed of myself, shy, and yet pretentious; the sort of life that depends on the implicit agreement of the surrounding society to not ask prying questions, and to never suggest unwholesome motivations.

Mortification was an essential ingredient, then, of my delayed coming-of-age. The first party I was taken to --the party's party, some thinly-veiled excuse to drink publically thrown on a docked boat by the local national liberals-- was an introduction to the kind of shedding that would be required to survive, over and over again. I dressed up; it was a thrift-store find I'd gotten somewhere in Ohio, black with red trim stitching, its halter strap and bias-draped skirt vainly hoping towards flamenco. My master came to pick me up. At the threshold of the apartment gate he cut a deep red rose from the vine and put it in my hair. I felt more beautiful and bashful than I could ever recall having felt. We walked, we caught a taxi, we arrived at a haphazard collection of stairs and terraces by the river that lead down to the softly lolling boat. Inside it looked much like any other bar there: a long rectangular room, some smattering of mismatched furniture pressed up against one length, with a tiny desk at one end where beer taps sat poised for duty and real alcohol presumably hid somewhere on an inner-shelf, well-obscured.

There were very few people yet there. My master sat himself on an overstuffed couch near the door, easily the best seat available. I sat next to him; he ordered variously; I asked for rum and cokes throughout the night, against the straight vodka and cognac that constantly replenished on the table. It was October, not quite cold enough for excuses, and yet everyone smoked inside. I happily joined the frenzy, keeping my hands occupied with glass or cigarette, or both.

People came and sat next to us, struck up what seemed like smalltalk. I practiced the few sentences I was learning. I apologized for not being able to understand much. After an hour or more I was sent on another trip to the bar to order drinks. When I returned the question was why I'd just gone to the bar --why wasn't I dancing? In truth, I'd done my best to avoid noticing the handful of people awkwardly foot-shuffling to the stultifying ecclectic mix of old pop duds wafting through the room. It was the least interesting thing going on, and I'd assumed my Master thought the same thing. Not so; he admonished me harshly for not having started dancing as soon as we'd arrived, and told me how disappointed he was that he'd finally had to say something at all. Humiliated, dripping with shame, I stood near our table and willed myself to dance.

It was the empty-hearted, self-aware sort of dancing that betrays deep disenjoyment, and I couldn't fake it better. After a few songs, the man grabbed me by the wrist, pulled me down to him, and pointed out a verbally obnoxious woman I'd thought he didn't like --he told me to watch her, and to dance like her. My humiliation deepened. But I watched, and wondered what it was that made her something to emulate. Nothing was particularly striking, except the sense that she was genuinely enjoying herself, something I knew I couldn't make myself do. I tried. I drank more, I tried to dance with the woman herself, who refused to look at me and eventually walked away. I asked for a break and was denied. I complained that this was the strangest, most awkward social situation I'd ever been in, and to please have mercy on me. I was sent back to dance. Eventually, thoroughly mentally exhausted and not too physically fresh either, I was called in, and made to sit in silence while my master fumed next to me, too disgusted, it seemed, to speak.

We left and he walked me to the taxi station a few miles away, towards Giroc. He wanted to know why I hadn't told him I was so terrible at dancing. He told me I was the worst he'd ever seen. I protested that I'd grown up in dance classes, and had never had a problem before --but that I didn't really listen to that sort of music, nor did I ever try to dance to it, nor did I much enjoy normal people --the sorts of people who went to political party parties in jeans and t-shirts, the sort that made smalltalk. What's more, I didn't understand them and they didn't understand me. Surely these gaps were the problem.

Not so. He insisted the problem was how completely incapable I was of dancing. I protested that I could bellydance; he ordered me to on the spot, in the street. I protested that I had no music --he didn't care, and I couldn't produce anything past my enduring shame and embarrassment. We arrived at the taxi stand and he sent me off with the sort of soul-crushing sendoff that had no embrace, no gentle look, no smile or sweetness or allusion to the future in it. I got home and realized he still had my keys, since I'd given them to him to pocket while I danced, and hadn't asked for them back. It was three o-clock on the morning. I had to wake up my landlady and her family to let me in.

The next morning, the horrors of the night were found far from faded. If anything, they'd put down roots and were now working on foliage and flowers. Over online conversation, my master demanded I make sense of the rift between my terrible performance and my notions of competence. I eventually arrived at the unpleasant realization that I must've been lying to myself, and thus to him, one way or another. The unavoidable truth was that when given the opportunities, I couldn't dance. It didn't matter that I thought I could do better, or ought to have been able to, or that I thought I did at some other time, before. What mattered was that when the time had come to show it, I had nothing to show, and the only possible explanation was something like deception.

The conversation abruptly ended and I knew the man was going to appear. I prostrated myself, naked, on the floor, pointed towards the door, waiting. I was terrified of my realization, confounded by what it might mean. How had I managed to lie when it was the last thing I wanted to do? Why did my intention to be pleasant company and to have fun end up buried in humiliation and failure? Was he going to forgive me? Was I forgivable?

I heard the keys thrust faultlessly into the lock in the plastic door, and then he was in. Tall and swift, like an electric wire in his winter coat, bringing the sweet blue crispness of the autumn cold into the room, he wordlessly whizzed past me and into the kitchen. He retrieved the old plastic soda bottle full of tuica, the local bootleg brandy, from on top of the mini refrigerator, and walked over to my desk and chair, unscrewing the cap. I smelled it. I thought, "He's going to cover me with that stuff and then light a match. He's going to set me on fire, he's going to kill me." Waiting, I don't know how long, kneeling with my wrists and forehead on the floor, my mantra had been "I can get through anything. Any form it takes is fine." And yet...would it be fine if I was drenched in brandy and set on fire? I thought about how I'd look with no hair or eyebrows if he did it and I survived.

"Ahh." He'd taken a drink. He re-capped the bottle. I wasn't going to die. "What the fuck am I going to do with you," he began, and a series of pointed questions and fumbling, unsatisfying replies followed. These exhausted, he stood and tied my ankles together, then my wrists, and knocked me onto my back. He retrieved the long white extension cord I'd been using to keep my computer facing away from the room's window, on the desk. He wound it a few times round, making a bundle of two or three loops. He beat me hard, and yet somehow summarily, on the legs, and on the back when I reeled over as though to escape the hits. He spent what seemed like a long time beating the soles of my feet, screaming at me to shut up when I screamed myself, in pain.

He untied me, and forced my fists into a pair of votive candle holders, binding them to my wrists with several layers of duct tape, rendering them closer to hooves than hands. He put down a dog dish on the floor and filled it with kibbles. He ordered me to eat. I half-chewed, half-gagged the acrid, metallic chunks of dog food, unable to use anything but my mouth to scoop them up. The bowl seemed endless. The more I ate the more I seemed incapable of producing the saliva needed to get it down. He sat at the desk, doing something on the computer, occasionally scolding me to eat faster, reminding me that he didn't have all the time in the world. Nearly done but with a few kibbles still left in the bowl, I began choking on a hair of mine that'd gotten into my mouth. I thrashed and spat and tried to expel it but couldn't, not without hands. I begged for help. My master stood before me, took out his cock, and told me he needed to pee, and ordered me to drink it. I took it into my mouth and tried to swallow the stream fast enough to keep my mouth from overflowing. The strong taste of the urine and the twinging of the still-present hair down my throat repeatedly made me gag, and I asked for a bowl so I could throw up. The man just looked at me. I begged for a bowl. Finally, unable to keep it down, I vomited on the floor, gagging and gasping.

"Eat it," he said, and I both believed him and couldn't believe him at the same time. I was disgusted, and yet somehow the sheer disgustingness of it all soothed over the edge, as though there were nothing capable of making me afraid, or doing me any harm, past this. It took me nearly an hour, but I lapped it up and ate it all, while he watched with a face full of what looked like crystalized disdain. I hadn't noticed, but he had put down a camera when he took his drink of tuica, and had recorded the ordeal in its entirety. When I was done eating my own vomit he replayed the video for me while he fucked me over the chair.

A Season or Three

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Time and trouble pass like water over the parts of life that matter still, that which cannot move, or, going towards the oblivion of the sea so slowly, never move too far or fast to leave a given moment untouched by their familiar presence. What's taken through the dells and valleys of the days and weeks and hence away from me, the flotsam of experience, traces with its margins the negative space in which all that really matters, is.

That which itself is not matter, but feeling.

seasoning

seasoning

Not things that are broken, but toil of mending.

seasoning

seasoning

I am a unit of a legion, a cog in a machine, and yet, alone.

seasoning

seasoning

The possibility of life, undeniably beautiful, carves into the living the closing doors of chances lost.

seasoning

seasoning

And so my landscape flourishes. The water flows as it should. The joy and longing thrive, so that I lack for nothing.

The cup runs over; the table's laid so plentifully it can hardly stand.

seasoning

seasoning

The carnage's daily made into another form, that I might keep the soul but shed the sinews.

seasoning

seasoning

I wander day and night finding something of my riverbed in unexpected, sidelong glances, in the sudden opening of eyes.

seasoning

seasoning

And, always, I know where I am ultimately going: to the sea. To the sea.

seasoning

seasoning

Where I will ever drown in those I love.

seasoning

And float back, bidden by memory.

* * *

It's been a tumultuous stretch of time since I last posted, but something in that tumult's taught me how to love the chaos better. People sometimes ask me what a normal day of mine is like, and I never seem to be able to answer. Perhaps it's because I don't have normal days; perhaps because I don't spend much time looking at the shape of what goes by on a minutious basis. Or I could be full of shit.

Besides, speech is a rolling-mill that always thins out the sentiment. Sometimes it's better to just do spoons.

seasoning

Close Encounters of the Costa Rican Kind

Sunday, August 9th, 2020

Lately it's not too likely to run into anyone you know --or anyone you think you'd like to-- out in the streets of paradise. Folks roam doggedly towards one-track destinations, lacking something of the ruminant charm characteristic of this place. They've been spooked into complaisance, it'd seem. I couldn't tell you by what. In any case, the space they've left is happily occupied by other organisms in this teemingly biodiverse traproom of a country into which everything nature crazed up seems to fall. Allow me to recount a few new friends and neighbors, those dear hearts and tender non-people getting their best impressions in while homo sapiens sleeps.

* * *

The Kiskadees ((Possibly not an exact identification, though if they're not Kiskadees they're most certainly professional Kiskadee impersonators. Part of living in the crossroads of so many species is ready confusion and Everestian discernment. At least for the lazy amateur.))

It all started when I attempted to plant some poppies. Not those kinds of poppies, don't get excited. A few pots on the balcony, and some pumpkins aside, because I've never had a balcony pumpkin before, and anyway the seeds were there. A couple of weeks later, I couldn't help but notice the pumpkins seemed to be doing fine, sprouted as expected, following some normal course of plantitude. But the poppy pots had nothing. Not even the loneliest suggestion of a tendril of green pushing up from the dirt, which --well, it seemed somehow re-done. A somnambulous sprouticide, in which the perpetrator attempted to sleepily cover their tracks? Whatever, I planted more seeds. I very carefully patted the topsoil just-so.

And a few days later noticed the dirt all tousled again, no sprouts. No seeds, in fact, either. The pumpkin plants gazed on, shrugging in the wind with what was now several inches of proof I hadn't hallucinated my attempt at gardening. A few days later still, as I was holed up in some dark corner of the house trying to separate уже and ещё, someone in a different corner excitedly exclaimed there was a kiskadee hopping around the hallway floor. However softly I tried to tread over there, of course, it was still a trundling horror to the tiny bird, which flew off to the balcony, where his lookout-friend was waiting. I stood unseen awhile and watched them take turns jumping into my erstwhile poppy pots. They hopped, they scratched through the contents, they took little fancy-pantsy premium topsoil dirtbaths and ate the occasional ant off the side. And the occasional seed, though by then not many were left.

I've been told I ought to keep supplies fresh. After all, a kiskadee attractor is something just as much to be observed and admired as a pot of poppies, even if it's quite a lot louder.

* * *

The Crocodile ((Or Alligator, what the fuck intractable animal identification persnickettiness has come to sit down all over my story!))

A pleasant morning at the beach. Miles of powdery sand still unscorched by the day's sun, moderate waves neither too tame to challenge nor seemingly orchestrated for getting as much up the nostrils as possible. A fresh breeze, a string of pelicans skimming the water like an unhooked pearl bracelet being brandished gracefully over an enormous bowl of soup...well, maybe not so much. Em.

But it was a nice day, and I stretched under the benevolent sky, watching the hermit crabs wander to and fro. Everyone else was in the water, naturally, but between a freshly broken toe and a monstrous case of ennui, I was intent on saving fun for later, whatever that means. I watched a line of surfers decline to attempt any surfing. I stretched on the sand and drifted into serene nothingness. Eventually I had enough of nothing and got up to join the more animated world, at which point I spotted MP jolting hard, intentfully, towards the shore, whereat he collapsed on the slick sand and sat panting, shaking his head at the sea.

"I saw a fucking crocodile."

"What?! No you didn't."

"I did, a juvenile, I saw the eyes in his head. He fucking looked at me."

"How big was it?"

The man put his arms out wide enough to freak me the fuck out.

"I was just about to go in. You sure it wasn't a log or something?"

"Not a chance. I'm not going back in there, what the fuck."

"Wow. You know, I might've had trouble believing you if we hadn't seen one here before."

It's true, we'd seen a baby, possibly a caiman rather than a crocodile, years ago, in roughly the same spot, parked on the line where the sea meets the sand and utterly refusing to move except to lunge at anything it deemed sufficiently impudent.

We all went for a wave-hop and a swim a good half-hour later, and no further sign of the beast was found, even if a few initial jolts were had at the sighting of a suspicious stick.

* * *

The Gecko

I've heard that Costa Ricans generally dislike limpiacasas, the little house-dwelling geckos that abound in Central America and distinguish themselves from nearly every other creature so found by emitting a loud sound rather reminiscent of a boisterous cackle. Something about a superstition involving dermal contact negatively impacting one's soul. I exempt them from all charges of pestilence on account of their not having any obnoxious behaviors whatsoever, and moreover being adorably evocative of a tiny reptillian squirrel on just about every count. A tiny reptillian squirrel that laughs.

We've long had unknown generations of geckos making camp in and around the house, and now and then will spot one rushing off to some important meeting. But the relationship is generally a distant one; they have their business, we have ours, and any hanging out to watch a film or whatnot is done at least at a few arms' lengths.

Which is why Nikki was so particularly exceptionalized by the sight of one swimming in the carrot juice rapidly approaching her mouth, recently. In the hubub of attempting to unpack a farmer's market's run worth of produce into an already-overstuffed fridge ((I had just made moussaka and tiramisu, and there was a big pot of minestrone in there also, which asides a full cheese drawer and like seven kinds of chilera and a handarm of plantains and eight jars of cold brew in various stages of completion...oh and of course the refrigerator has an alarm, like all self-important appliances these days, and for some unknown reason I sit around writing shit like this instead of taking a sledgehammer to the back panel and hitting until the beeping stops...when I say hubub I mean it.)), the poor girl took it upon herself to pour an innocent glass of juice, which glass she'd gotten from the usual perch for drying dishes, by the sink. And so she poured, and in a heroic organizational fete attended to the screaming refrigerator door, re-capped the juice jug, exhaled, and drank --and immediately let out a screeching whine, something between a surprised water buffalo and someone whose card was just eaten by the ATM. She dashed the few paces back to the sink, pouring out all the contents of her glass, from which emerged a rather vitaminized gecko.

Following his near-fatal engulfment by girl --not to mention by carrot juice--, he scurried behind the dish soap bottle (sudsy and probably toxic), and was eventually coaxed out towards the whetstone (you know, where the knives are sharpened), and afterwards, the far hinge of a cabinet door (the metal hinge, not all that forgiving against tender gecko flesh). Whether his poor choice of refuge will continue to place him in the path of danger I don't know, but I have my suspicions.

* * *

That's all for now, 'til the next critter dares, or the masked men come to their senses.

Jabberwock Jaunt

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

There are plenty of reasons why I'd rather spend the entire paranoia apocalypse in Costa Rica than just about anywhere else, and reasons one through three are about coffee. Nearly as importantly, though, is the fact that a couple hundred kilometers' drive --down a road that knows no rival in any category that matters ((The 34 sports: flanking palm groves, ridiculous mountain twists, sudden all-encompassing ocean vistas, scarlet macaw flyovers, multiple roadside fruit vendors, bridges over egretted estuaries, and probably the least amount of potholes as compared to any other road in CR.))-- yields absolute relaxation. I don't know that any particular spot on the Southern Pacific coast is "better" than any other, nor do I think there's much point to the debate; there's too much beauty abounding, and why stick ourselves with the plight of Paris anyway. This particular escape-from-paradise-towards-interestingly-different-paradises settles itself in Dominical.

Where, happily, hospitality is humming along, no shoes no shirt no masks no alcohol in gel no problem. "I hear toucans. Do you have toucans here often?" "Yes, in the afternoon, every day you can see them." Sold. Well, and there are other factors, like a very pleasant, minimally chlorinated pool.

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In the Central Valley pools tend to veer on the brisk to shocking side, but on the coast, it's like dipping oneself into endless silk. Utterly perfect and nearly impossible to leave.

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This guy hung out poolside all day, allowing all manner of silly anthropomorphisms as he showed off various poses on the theme of laziness. Friends and enemies --who knows?-- came and went, climbed trees, went about their business in the basilisk recruitment depot I mean mangroves, chomped on yellow orchids...but our friend was committed to the path of most languidity, may he ever prosper (slowly, one toe at a time).

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Have you ever seen an iguana ear?

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Also attendant, wayward baby frogs! Nikki here briefly interrupted her regularly scheduled program of noodling to rescue a tiny guy who was swimming for his life in the deep end.

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All while King Jurassic MiniPok looked on.

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The leaf-cutter ants, perhaps overwhelmed by sheer choice, left emerald carpets wherever their trails marched on.

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And the momeraths outgrabe.

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It might as well indeed've been a Lewis Carrollian dream, giant candycorn fruits fallen from the peaks of plants where ruby-throated lizards rustled and crows impersonated the unpacking, shuffling, and dealing of cards.

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I still don't know what sort of tree this was, but these are its shiv-roots, fully aerated and housing who knows what ecosystems of scaly chimeras.

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But in case anything too terribly gnarly should emerge, there's a very nicely manicured safety zone. Also, for earthquakes.

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...Or Clint Eastwood Octopi.

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The Sealing Wax Palm ((Really its name. I only make shit up like 80% of the time.)). It eats the previous night's sunset and releases it, partially digested, the next evening ((See?)).

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Probably the pool iguana's idea.

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"In here, life is beautiful."

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"The girls flowers are beautiful."

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"Even ze orchestra foliage is beautiful."

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Wild chili peppers peeping out from passionflower vines overhanging the reptile reserve. Every outing here has some moment where the fascination and splendor of nature makes one downright incredulous. "Oh, COME ON!" This was it, for me anyway.

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The coming-down passiflora.

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The wee snake dames' room.

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The serenity now.

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And, why not, let's end with an antique dulap, pentru cheful dulapului. I don't know if it's seen better days, but it's certainly seen a lot of them. Likely enough, other, older days offered up to the hysteria of "pandemic" --but not nearly as consumed by it. The cabinet goes on, and so will we, even if our contents are a little rearranged.

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 purple ((When's the last time you saw anything but primary colors and shades of gray in institutional fabrics?)):

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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.

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! ((All terrible joke complaints to be directed at the muses, pls. I just wear hats here.))

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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.

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 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.