Wednesday in Wien

October 5th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 19th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha doin?

-t

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Bam, right in to a record.

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

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

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

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

Easterly Travelogue

September 13th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Also in Kiev, abuzars of taste and decency.

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

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

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The Warsaw mermaid, whose shadow merely animates.

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

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

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

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King Quack Kossack, probably, in his rightful repose.

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

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

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

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

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

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Portrait of Oslo.

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Barbican seam in sodium splendor, Warsaw.

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Pie jokes are not allowed in Minsk.

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

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

Tudeloo.

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

B,TMSR~ Comix

September 13th, 2019

From the logs:

~*2018*~
stan-summer18

~*2019*~
stan-summer19

All complaints re quality, squiggly ghetto sharpie margins etc to be directed to diana_coman for her plenivoluminary faith!

Transfagarasan

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. []

Localbitcoins cracked corn, and I don't care.

August 25th, 2019

On June 1st, localbitcoins silently switched off the ability to select "cash in person" as a bitcoin trade option on its site. Unsurprisingly, it "temporarily disabled" its forum at the same time. I know this, or at least, I knew it as quickly as I did, because various members of the WoT I built there over the years wrote to me to decry the fact and point out that they were still available for cash trades; I've only to say the word.

I've been trading on localbitcoins for about five years. I've used it on four continents and in more than thrice as many countries. If you looked at my profile, you wouldn't know any of the foregoing. Why? That's implicit in the word used above. I don't give a shit about some dorks and their wanna-be website, or about what they think are good criteria for trading. That's *my* call, and the kinds of people I want to trade with in the first place are also the kinds of people who rely on their own damned research. That means absolute bullshit in the vein of "verified accounts" is more of an anti-signal than a real one. Always has been, always will be. The very idea that a third party, not in my WoT, with unknown incentives1 can do the work of verifying someone for me, is antithetical to Bitcoin itself. What do I care how many trades some anonymous randos (for all we know, and likely so, bots, or as close to bots as humans get) say a trader under my consideration has done? Why would I take some website's word on the matter, even if I were interested in the foregoing; why wouldn't I talk to those randos myself?

And therein lies perhaps the most damning aspect of the use of sites like localbitcoins as the maintainers themselves would propose it be used --just like every other such layer of obfuscation, it attempts to separate you, the user, from what is a potential member of you WoT. It attempts to exploit your natural disinclination to talk to people you do not know, to automate and opiate the uncomfortable, so all you have to do is click here or there, compare one and two. I would very much like to live in a world where everyone already knows, consciously, that giving in to such a thing is tantamount to selling oneself in the worst way --that is, selling one's willingness and ability to think, to decide-- but I know I don't. It's too goddamned tempting to walk the "easy" route and let someone else do the dirty work of uncomfortable interaction for you. But you're giving up control, and while it's easy now it'll be a damned sight harder later, when you're older, when you need the fruits of your control that much more, and you haven't the ability to wrest it back.

So no, I'm not especially concerned that localbitcoins is handing itself and its users over to the forces of evil2 The people who will be negatively affected are either attempting to "be involved with bitcoin" in ways that directly oppose what bitcoin is, or else belong to that sad group that was however slowly attempting to figure out how it ought to be used, correctly. They built relationships, but kept them on-site. They traded when they absolutely needed it, but didn't trade for the sake of WoT-building. They acted, in one way or another, out of hesitancy and avoidance of their duty, which is to be responsible for their connections.

The necessary corollary being, of course, that making strong, exhaustive connections isn't optional! That state wherein you need an intermediary to tell you when you may and may not access "your" money, and how, and how much, and you can rot on your couch ordering ramen to your doorstep and making friends/masturbatory fodder on okcupid is called Unified Silly Dosidoe banking. Bitcoin isn't it, and it doesn't matter how many "regulatory agencies", "trading platforms", "websites", or ads masquerading as media try to proclaim otherwise.

Do your work, use tools as a human uses tools. Anything else is slavery.

  1. We can imagine their incentive is to part me from at least some portion of my money, and that their hope is I'm the sort of fool towards whom this sort of incentive works. []
  2. If turning off the one desirable trade option without notice while denying easy access to discussion thereof isn't enough for you, consider Jeremias Kangas and family took the further step of confiscating all coin in wallets not verified to The Great Old Ones' satisfaction on August 1st. []

Impression of Minsk, July 5th

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! []

Duplex

June 14th, 2019

The girl started tallying the footsteps on the stairs. They were too careful, she thought, as if the signal she desperately wanted to take them for was being denied her in the very course of the trodding. But then she realized she'd lost count. To something vague, she added one foot on the landing's small carpet, paying special attention then to the scratchy shuffle of bare feet on cold, clean tile. The soft swish of feet approached like proffered tissues from a box. She wanted to take them all, as she sat crumpled behind the door of the little room, straightening her back and looking pitifully at the handle. She wanted them almost as much as she wanted the sound of the door being flung open, and the sight of different feet, feet that never softly shuffled, and were almost never bare, on the tiles in front of her.

But the sound passed her by to set up some grand festival in the kitchen next door. It was afternoon. How late, she couldn't tell; she'd lost her sense of how the sun's shade told the time. The connection kept changing, and she wouldn't trust what wouldn't stay put once in a while. Not even herself. It was a later hour than when she'd been sent to sit there, in the little room, at least. Enough time had passed for the urge to pee to become unpleasant, and the stale air laying unpersuaded in the close corners and around the tiny window stifled her mouth and nose with the temptation of opening the door.

She heard five eggs crack and longed for something to do with her hands and eyes. She remembered bitterly the times she'd complained of separating white from yolk. If only she could do it now, and slowly, and well, a hundred eggs to be responsible for, organizing yesterday's difficulties one by one. Then the smell of lemons stabbed its way into the door's bottom gap, and the girl felt a pang of hunger. Whether she really was hungry or already missed the dinner she knew she wouldn't have, she didn't know. She heard a cabinet open followed by the tell-tale rustling of the bag of coffee beans. Whole ages of uncounted time before she'd told herself she would, she took the luxury of shifting her weight onto her other buttock, relishing the sudden relief and the pins that instantly sprang to life in her legs. Her body sighed against itself, despite itself. Surely, if there was to be coffee in the kitchen soon, surely she would be remembered....

* * *

Each descent of the stairs, she knew, would make the girl in the little room jolt with fresh anticipation, hanging on her steps all the way down, positioning herself just right for the hoped-for opening of the door. It felt cruel going down; almost as cruel as going back up, but there was no helping it. Each time she laughed somewhere in the house she wondered if she thereby sent daggers. Whenever silence fell long enough to remind her she was relaxed, she felt an urge to remind the floor below that it was not alone, even if it was sequestered. The girl stepped lightly on the boards where she knew they'd creak a little, but the least, and picked her way into the kitchen to start a cake.

She weighed out everything meticulously, keeping notes in case this one turned out right. Three hundred twenty five grams of eggs, she wrote down. She separated them, lingering a moment to fish out a tiny splinter of shell that'd fallen in the whites. Her spoon joined the growing pile of dirty dishes. A long time now, since she'd been responsible for dirty work, but she felt a strange thrill in the return of the monotony. She wondered if the girl envied her the washing of these dishes. She let the water --serene against the kitchen's heat-- lap over her palms, feeling deeply indulgent even as she regretted the noise it made. Certainly, by now, the girl would need to pee badly.

With one sixty six gram egg left on the scale, the girl made herself find how many grams off this one was from the average. For a split-second she shrugged off the task, but the silent, invisible presence of the girl's contrition next door instantly called her back. One; good. She zested a lemon and brought the grater and fruit closer to the door, knowing the lazy hot day in the little room would cool and contract with a whiff of citrus. She looked at the door and the door did not look back.

She put the coffee to simmer and wished that she could set a bigger table, but she knew it'd be a while yet before the girl's liberation.

A Thermo-Rental Odyssey

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

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. []