London: Empires and Ashes

September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Flogging Molly – Tobacco Island


It was unusual, how silly I was after three glasses of beer. I even looked up the elevation to see if that was the issue. It was 36′ above sea level. In retrospect, I recognize it as attributable to malnutrition; I was down to a meal a day and, tragically, today’s had been fish and chips. And I skipped the chips.

Off I went, into the gloomy and actively darkening city of London to see what there was to see.

There was this sick monument to the Great Fire of London. Nowhere in the plaque did they specify if they were for or against it.

I crossed the Thames and it turned out that I was outside of Parliament. See, Parliament meets in Westminister.

I didn’t take a picture of the palace itself because who wants to see another boring palace? I was still a little irritated by the — (get ready I’m about to use a real British word) — hullabaloo over the Crown Jewels back at the Tower of London. Yeah, real fancy, got it.

Although, Black Rod’s secret trapdoor should have given me a hint, but who can decode this daffy (that’s another one) political system? Lords and Commons? Get outta here.

The pig hid his face in shame as I took the picture, as pigs should. I turned the corner and encountered an Imperial shitton of scaffolding around a statue of King Richard the Lionheart.

If that’s what you’re into, go to town, I guess. Richie was a big crusader and conqueror, which tends not to reflect well in the totality of time, but crusading was in vogue back then. What, you’re gonna tell the Pope “no?”

There was also that prickly little matter of him declaring the Purge on all of London’s Jews, then saying “oops jk” after the murderous riots got a little too expensive, but that’s no reason to take down a statue! Those were the times! Jefferson was a slaveowner. Skeletons abound, I’m sure.

Yeah, I was doing some mental gymnastics trying to give the benefit of the doubt until I turned the corner and saw the statue celebrating Cromwell.

If you’re an American who went to public school, you don’t know who this dude was, unless you listened to Flogging Molly, or had a brassy Irish grandma.

Cromwell was the Puritan son-of-a-bitch who masterminded what amounted to an Irish ethnic cleansing in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Penal Laws passed after the Reformation turned Catholics into bags of expendable meat. They weren’t even criminals, since all the rights were revoked. You could do whatever you wanted to them. This led to a lot of instantaneous robbery and murder, though you couldn’t call it robbery since they weren’t people anymore.

Now you might have heard of a guy called Saint Patrick. In America, he has a day. You drink green beer and perpetuate fun racial stereotypes. Patrick catholicized Ireland about a millennium earlier, so the majority of the country was Catholic (read: disposable). As of 2016, the whole country is still 82% Catholic. Old habits die hard.

But not for Ollie’s lack of trying! Cromwell had quite a Roundhead for business, and decided to monetize this genocide. Like Colombus!

Thus came transportation, or “Barbadosing”. If you were found guilty of Catholicism, or Irishness, you were packed up and shipped to Barbados to work the tobacco and sugarcane plantations. Or maybe to Australia. Or maybe to some other English colony! Christ (the Puritan one) knows there was no shortage.

The final fun little twist was all the opportunities available for indentured servitude. If you committed a different, non-Catholic crime, you could also get shipped off for seven years. The Irish took this with good humor, and wrote a number of tasteful folk songs about how much it sucked.

Finally, you opt into seven years transportation in exchange for freedom and wages, paid on completion of indentured service, unless you had an accident the day before and, say, died in a mine shaft.

I goggled at the statue of this highly celebrated genocidal slaver for a few seconds. The Irish are still mad about this. They live like, next door.

There was cold comfort in the fact that all this imperial detritus seemed so desperate. Remembrance of times when England was great, by the standards of the time, dragged screaming into a future that absolutely does not recognize those standards.

Like Propagandhi said: Today’s empires, tomorrow’s ashes.

I’m not linking that one, though. There are already two punk songs in this post, and I never got into Propagandhi.

You ever read that poem, Ozymandias?

Love,

B.

London: The Tower of London

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Blind Guardian – The Bard’s Song (The Hobbit)

The Tower of London was less of a tower and more of a squat, broad fortress. I’m sure a thousand years ago, a four story building was the cutting edge of tower technology. It would’ve proved insurmountable to anyone who wanted to pick a fight with William the Conqueror, considering that your typical early Middle Ages Anglo-Saxon peasant could not dream such luxury as ladder ownership.

The tower would be repurposed throughout the ages, from fortress to prison to wife disposal and dead prince storage.

It was a beautiful old fortification. There are many who define success as a life of leisure and freedom to pursue their dreams. My own definition is regular access to a strategically defensible position. Siege warfare soothes me.

The torture room was real downplayed. They only brought in three replicas of torture instruments, and devoted the rest of the compound to largely anticlimactic British history.

Here we see the scavenger’s daughter, heralded as “totally worse than the rack” on that little info thing. You fold a dude up in it then keep tightening it down until he breaks his whole business on his whole business. Truly, we are our own worst enemies.

The centerpiece that really pulls any torture chamber together, the rack. You don’t need a blow-by-blow of the rack, do you? It’s 2019. Read a book.

There’s something to be said of simplicity. Manacles are wide, unsexy handcuffs that fasten around behind you, then a member of the Catholic church hoists you up, lifting your arms behind your back and really frigging up your whole rotator cuffs until you admit that heliocentricity is false and heretical.

The White Tower was the first building and the one for which the tower is named. It served as Willy the Conq’s main keep, and parsing these agonizingly long-winded and self-congratulatory Wikipedia articles has brought to my attention that it is the largest keep in the Christian world, and a “donjon par excellence”.

There was also what I can only describe as a raven yard in the castle courtyard. Some goofy old prophecy predicted that, should the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, both the keep and the country of England would fall.

This strikes me as a very specific and arbitrary prophecy. Probably just some crazy guy yelled it once, but that was all it took. The keep’s keepers began a long-standing tradition of clipping the raven’s flight wings on one side to keep them in the courtyard, feeding and breeding these large, noisy, functionally useless creatures. For centuries.

They just keep doing things for centuries.

Dressing like this, for example. Those are the official vestments of the post. Imagine what kind of national pride you’d need to put on that outfit every day and go to work caretaking these giant, ineffectual carrion scavengers in observance of an entirely arbitrary bit of divinatory bird magic dating back over half a millenium.

Look at these Masterpiece Theater clowns trying to conscript me. God save the queen? God save bofa.

England in particular, and Europe in general, has a morbid fascination with treasure in concept that I can’t quite grasp. I went through one of the main fortifications to check out the Crown Jewels; photography was expressly forbidden, so you’ll have to take my word for it. There was a kind of cool ceremonial sword, but aside from that, it was just shiny Party City costumery.

They packed the halls with gold and jewels, an absolute Tolkienian hoard, and I breezed right past all the elderly Brits and Spaniards who were gawping like the displays were going to do tricks.

I’m an American, honey. Money is the second cheapest thing, after talk. Where do you think all that gold came from?

1d8+Dex, now we’re talking. I tried to wind it but the bastards nailed it down, presumably to prevent open insurrection. Cowards.

They set up a number of modern art knight sculptures doing cartoonishly stylized castle things throughout the tour.

There was a room about the tower’s role in World War I. It boiled down to “it was a fortress”. Wow.

View this post on Instagram

WHICH #hats #headwear #war #London #bastardtravel

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

What heinous sentence construction. And that’s coming from me, compulsive preposition stacker, hamfisted infinitive surgeon, and irredeemable parenthesaiyan. I can’t believe they invented the language.

This fuckin’ guy. He just goes stomping around, to and fro. Me and the legions of Asian tourists were standing there, watching him go. To what end? Who knows?

“Hey, we need this guy to march in a circle every hour, on the other,” someone said, six-hundred years ago.

“QUITE RIGHT SIRE! ASTUTELY PROPHESIED”

The place was filthy with history, and I can’t go into all of it here because:

  1. I’m coming up on 1000 words, which is my cutoff.
  2. I don’t get paid enough.

If you want to know about the dead prince bones squirreled away in the basement, or any of the other political prisoners they disposed of, or Henry the VIII’s pro-gamer move wife trade-in, google’s got your back.

I made my way out of the Tower of London, which was simpler than you may have heard.

Are you British, or a Britain enthusiast, boiling with frumpy rage at my assessment thus far? Let’s fight in the comments below! Or, if you want to take the fight to social media, pick a link from the left. Bring your whole crew.

Love,

B.

Bilbao: Gone to the Dogs

Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Bilbao, Spain.
Soundtrack: Die Antwoord – I Fink You Freeky

Bilbao is the largest city in northern Spain and the de facto capitol of Basque country. The construction of its downtown and its general vibe has a lot in common with Barcelona, although Barcelona is cranked up to 11. Bilbao is more laid-back, and absolutely swarming with dogs.

“Take Barcelona,” I told the lads in a transmission home. “Excise everything but the Gothic Quarter, snickety-snack. Cauterize the cuts by wrapping it in Wilkes-Barre (or some other desolate industrial city of your choice). This is the skeleton of Bilbao.

To flesh it out, turn your new city into a dog shelter staffed by retirees and teenage soccer hooligans. Then, make the whole big bastard directed by Die Antwoord.”

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a glowing review, but I really like dogs and Die Antwoord.

Casco Viejo is Spanish for “old quarter”, and it makes up the downtown. You can see the similarity in with the preserved medieval construction. Casco Viejo is interchangable with Siete Calles, which means “seven streets”, and gives you some idea of the size of downtown.

Let’s talk about pintxos.

In Basque, the tx is pronounced like a sharp “ch”, so that’s peen-chos. It means toothpick food, and that’s its whole deal.

Tiny little impaled micro-sandwiches. These are spicy tuna and some kind of also spicy shredded beef thing. Pintxos are Basque country’s take on tapas, steering them more into bocadillo territory by leaning more heavily on bread than on potatoes.

Plaza Berria is Bilbao’s epicenter. At any given time, someone is playing accordion there. It’s never the same guy.

I followed a map to the start of Casco Viejo, which turned out to be a sprawling dog park.

Bilbao was crawling with dogs. Not strays, either. They were all exceptionally well-trained; I didn’t see a single on on a leash, but they all stayed at their owner’s side, whether in the park or the heavily peopled tangle of downtown.

Turns out, dogs are sort of Bilbao’s thing. One of the siete calles is called Calle de Perros. Noodle that one out. It’s got a thematically appropriate water fountain at the inner intersection.

View this post on Instagram

Dog fountain #perros #bilbao #bastardtravel #Spain

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

Legend has it this 19th century beast was originally carved with the heads of Egyptian-style lions as the spigots, and the tub was used to wash animals before taking them to market. Rssident Bilbaoans have since decided, “Nah. They’re dogs. Everything’s dogs. And you use it to drink out of.”

Dogs allegedly drink out of it too, but I only saw people hit the button and lean into the stream.

I walked Casco Viejo until late, zonked out in my hostel and hit the streets in the late morning to make my way to the Guggenheim.

View this post on Instagram

Cool bank #santander #bilbao #spain #bastardtravel

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

Bilbao is a beautiful city, if more retiring and demure than Barcelona. It’s not a fair comparison to make, and I wouldn’t be making it if I hadn’t come right from one to the other.

Barcelona is a teeming, thriving, bohemian metropolis. It’s Florence in the days of Da Vinci. Art is the rule of the day there. The artistic spirit of the city is screaming, but not the way it screams in New York (at you, while flailing a knife) or in Berlin (dissociatively, into the void); it’s calling out, playful, almost seductive.

Bilbao isn’t about that. The genius locii aren’t frothing. It’s laid back, in that particularly Spanish way. Bilbao would have been perfectly happy living in its relative mountain seclusion with its many, many dogs, if not for the Guggenheim.

The Basque government decided a famous museum is just what the derelict port sector of the city needed for a full metropolitan revitilization, and made the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation a multi-million dollar offer that they simply couldn’t refuse. The Foundation contracted a Canadian architect Frank Gehry, for some reason. Six years later, the ugliest museum in the world stood proudly in the ruinous wreckage of portside Bilbao.

The revitilization worked, and the Guggenheim is now one of the city’s biggest moneymakers. It attempted to spread a new style of architecture out into the city, breaking away from the traditional medieval Spanish construction, but that never caught on. Wonder why.

View this post on Instagram

and uhh this thing #bilbao #bastardtravel #Spain

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

View this post on Instagram

#Guggenheim #bilbao #bridge #bastardtravel

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

During the Black Plague, in order to mitigate the smell of the bodies, they would stuff the pockets with flowers. Plague Doctor masks are designed that way for the same reason, with the nose cones stuffed with rose petals in the belief that this would protect from the disease, along with hiding the smell.

I think Bilbao got the same idea when they saw what the museum was shaping up to look like. In 1997, artist Jeff Koons set up his monumental display “Puppy”, made of flowers meant to reflect 18th century European gardens.

I took some time to admire this handsome titan, then plodded down the steps into the underbelly of the Guggenheim proper.

Love,

B.

Barcelona: City of Dreams

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: The Libertines – The Man Who Would Be King

Our new hostel promised authentic paella cooking instruction and all-you-can-eat while supplies last at 9pm. The empanadas would not bear the weight. A pregame dinner was in order.

In Spain, you don’t eat meals. That’s why everyone’s slender and 5’5″, and why I feel like some sort of yeti Gandalf in swarthy Hobbiton. You eat tapas. Tapas are sixish bites of food that you eat at one place, then move onto the next; the theory is you stretch the act of eating into an evening-long graze that you also spend drinking responsibly and socializing.

In Barcelona, this is easy, since every other door is a new and exciting restaurant. A butcher half a block down served more “ham scratchings” on baguette for next to nothing, which was exactly what the doctor ordered to hold us over.

We did another lap around the city and discovered more plazas that just emerged from nowhere. Every alley had one and they were all ideal. It boggles me, coming from a place like Philadelphia, that a city can be so effortlessly serene and pleasant and clean.

Clean especially. Not once did I see human shit on the sidewalk. Sidewalk shit is Philly’s principal export.

Back at the hostel, they were gearing up for the authentic paella experience. The rules were simple: you help cook, and you clean your dishes. The California girl working at the hostel explained that authentic paelle was made by pouring frozen seafood, rice, and canned vegetables into a big pot with fish broth, then covering it for twenty minutes.

We ate at a long table, like the Last Supper. The kid next to me was in Spain on some ritzy scholarship, parsing data for meta-analyses of schizophrenic treatment options. I tried to talk shop, and he complimented my “terminology” but wouldn’t go into details aside from the fact the he shows up drunk sometimes and has a reputation as a “party kid”, which he is not.

He did teach me, however, that the hostel was selling wine for 3 Euros a bottle. He was saving his for his head. I bought a bottle and split it with Ladygirl and a British weeb.

The paella was good, probably. I don’t know. The wine was potent. I didn’t take a picture. I’ll take a picture next time I make it.

Night fell, and the entire hostel emptied out to go on the 15 Euro pub crawl. I don’t like guided fun, and Ladygirl had an early flight the next day, so clubbing until 4 AM wasn’t in the cards.

We decided to go out and grab a drink, maybe another tapa. Little did we realize it was La Mercè, an excruciatingly Catholic feasting festival spanning four days. It’s undoubtedly related to lent in some way, but I refuse to research how.

This was sitting right behind the Arc.

I had a half bottle of wine sloshing around in my head. What?

We continued down the park and came upon a labyrinth made of lit-up bags of recyclables. It wasn’t a statement. It wasn’t the amount of recycling in a given period of time or anything. It was just “an art installment”, and that was as much information as was provided.

I was at a loss. What did this have to do with a feast day? What did this have to do with anything?

Barcelona was unperturbed.

“This is like a music festival,” I said, wonderingly.

We made a lap to City Hall, but nothing was set up there yet. It would be the next day. It was still filthy with humans, but they were the general Monday night Barcelona party crowd.

Unfortunately, I would only find out the exact nature of that set up secondhand. The 24th was going to be a fire festival described to me as “the devil parade”. I already got my ticket to Balbao. You can imagine my disappointment.

Ladygirl ate some sort of chocolate covered waffle and we returned to the hostel, withdrawing from the communal dream and dropping into a more individual set.

To be interrupted by the girls in the bunk across the room, who kept snoozing their max-volume alarm from 6 to 6:30 AM, as though there were no other people in the world.

C’est la vie.

Love,

B.

Barcelona: La Rambla Möbius Market

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Ram Jam – Black Betty

Take a moment to appreciate the Ram Jam video, if you’ve never seen it. Magnificent bastards.

The Gothic Quarter abuts La Rambla, and you know you’ve crossed the threshold because there’s suddenly enough space to move around. At least, there would be, if not for all the damned humans.

These two sections are the primary tourist attractions in Barcelona, and while the Gothic Quarter squeezes you in its tight, spooky corridors like a Halloween-themed sardine can, La Rambla offers the space necessary for a bit of perspective on the sheer concentration of virulent humanity in Barcelona.

It stretches for eternity in either direction, an unbroken line in the true geometric sense. Along this infinite parkway you can find anything you can imagine, so long as you’re imagining fifty identical tchochkes mass-produced in Bangladesh.

Each stand has the same items, but the prices vary by up to a Euro. An Euro? One Euro. When you walk far enough in on direction, the veil begins to thin, and the stands branch out into selling genetically engineered bell pepper seeds that will, eventually, look like wieners.

But the legimate stands aren’t the true draw.

These fine and fragrant gentlemen set up their wares on blankets, and they just pitch these displays up like an Amish barn-raising. It’s spectacular to behold. It’s like those cup stacking competitions on Japanese game shows.

I was privileged enough to be passing through when one of Barcelona’s five total cops came a-ramblin’ down La Rambla, and the resultant hive-mind communication among these young entrepeneurs was truly something to behold.

In near unison, they grabbed the ropes on the corners of their blankets, pulled, and swung, securing the whole of their business on their back — and hidden from prying pigs peepers — like a big ol’ Santa sack.

Absolutely breathtaking.

We hit the outer reaches of La Rambla, where the simulation begins breaking down, far beyond the penis peppers and into the realm of street performers and statuary. By design, they make it difficult to tell one from the other.

I would never have known that this Galileo had an art degree if he didn’t start friggin’ around with his little telescope after a child popped a Euro into his globe.

We abouted-face and went back to where the ley lines were stronger, where a man could get a half-recent Catalonian flag keychain made out of beads, then pulled off to the side and rolled into La Boqueria.

La Boqueria is an elaborate indoor food market reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar, but in Spanish. You’re crammed in elbow to elbow, and you have to mosh your way from stand to stand, but it’s worth it once you get there.

The origin of the name is thought to come from “boc“, which is Catalan for goat, and thus: a market where goat meat is sold.

I worked up an independent hypothesis which I told to Ladygirl as though it were fact, in which the root word is the Spanish “boca“, or mouth, making the area “the mouthery”, so named for the fact that everything there goes in the mouth.

Especially the Sucs Naturals.

We got some empanadas and some Sucs Naturals, then realized we had been walking pretty much nonstop since waking up and decided to touch down in the hostel, maybe read books or something.

The new place was right next to the Arc, and much bigger than our last one, which is both blessing and curse. On the terrace we encountered a charming British girl who claimed she hadn’t slept in days (a popular passtime in Barcelona), made vague mention of a sex museum in Amsterdam, then immediately lost consciousness in a sunbathing chair. She remained in her li’l restful torpor until a handful of Australian bros came outside to chainsmoke and shout.

There are three types of people that you meet when traveling.

But that’s a post for another day.

Love,

B.

 

Barcelona: The Gothic Quarter and Other Medieval Crap

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Blind Guardian – The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight

An Australian joined us for tapas the night before. Over mojitos, he and I commiserated on the ennui that first drove us overseas.

“I’m a month into it now, so I’ve got about two months left.”

“That’s a long haul.”

“Fuckin’ right,” he said. “I miss it back home, but I just gotta power through it.”

“When you’re here you wanna be there, and when you’re there you wanna be here,” I said.

“Exactly.”

Ladygirl sipped at her oversugared mojito.

She and I dropped off to resolve our sleep debts; Australia also hadn’t slept in a few days, but said he was going to head out for a few beers before turning it.

The next morning I was tickatackin on the terrace and he bodily dragged himself out in a demonstration of top-of-the-line ragdoll physics.

“Did I wake you two coming in?” he asked.

“Naw,” I said. “I was out by midnight, so it must’ve been after that.”

“I just got in at 7, mate.”

I looked at my watch.

“You’re talking like, fifteen minutes ago?”

“Yeh. I went on the pub crawl, then we wound up at this club. Somebody gave me a pill. I only took half, figured I’d be good. I wasn’t good.”

“What kind of pill?”

He looked around, visibly insane, but I would look visibly insane if I had his week too.

“Ecstasy,” he said.

“So much for a couple beers.”

He exploded with manic laughter, then announced he was going to bed and disappeared. I encountered him again when I went to get my stuff from the locker. He was snoring like a backfiring chainsaw. I’m glad he found peace.

We would have liked to stick around Gracia, but the hostel was full up. We booked one next to the Arco de Triunfo, gathered all our stuff, and made our way across the city of dreams.

The city of dreams was drowsy this morning. The demographic had changed. A lot more oldos were puttering around, wearing more clothing than the established average. The oldos in Barcelona have no sense of spatial awareness whatsoever, and will attempt to hip check you off the sidewalk or drive a baby carriage into your leg.

I was sad to see Gracia go. The tapas were all $2, and it was far enough removed from the tourist sites that you were only occasionally swarmed by teenagers screaming in English. Still, I wasn’t disappointed for long.

You know you’ve hit the Gothic Quarter because evil wizard castles start growing out of nowhere, but the deal is really sealed in the twisting, labyrinthine side-streets that make up the medieval district. You never know what’s around the next corner, but “weird tourist shops” would be a fair bet.

Who is this handsome gentlemen, to be placed in the pantheon alongside Einstein and Obama? Could this be the Christmas Lad of Iceland, prior to his scientific gelding?

The Caganer is a popular figure in Catalonian culture, associated with the Nativity. Yeah, the Christmas one. With Jesus in it. His name translates to “the shitter”, and most families will pop his figurine somewhere clandestine in the nativity scene, whereupon the children will try to find it. It’s like a little Where’s Waldo, but with shit.

“Why?” you may be asking. “Isn’t it kind of blasphemous to have a dwarf shitting next to Jesus?”

That’s a reasonable conclusion to draw, but nobody knows. There are a bunch of possible explanations for the Caganer’s presence and symbolism, but it’s empty conjecture. I’m partial to the Jungian representation of Caganer as “the Other” myself, but I’m also certain it’s a load of psychobabble cagada and 17th century peasants just thought poop was funny.

I know you’re wondering. No, I didn’t buy it. But only because his little red cap clashes with my office.

We scrounged up some beer and bocadillos at a cafe not far from the Cathedral. While there, we had to move to another table because a waiter had to open an honest-to-yog trapdoor and descend into the cellar for more wine.

There was a sign over the door that I managed to noodle out despite my at-best halting Spanish. It said:

Bienaventurados los borrachos, porque ellos verán a dios dos veces.

Blessed are the drunks, because they’re going to see God twice.

Love,

B.

 

Providence: Animals, Art, and ACAB

May 25, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

We bade a fond and eventual farewell to our beloved Courtney and headed across town with no particular destination, short of eventually winding up at H.P. Lovecraft’s grave. I had grand designs to re-animate him. It’s what he would have wanted.

As the Girl and I tramped down the street, our footing growing rapidly less dependable and our voices louder as we repeatedly discussed how “everyone here is so nice!”, a man yelled at us from a picnic table that this place has the best lobster roll in Providence.

I didn’t particularly want a lobster roll, but I knew I’d be a fool to ignore this shouted wisdom. We entered a transplanted 50s style dinner with a chunky, melted disco ball rotating in a desert of checkerboard tile. The walls were lined with surreal, semiprofessional 60s-style counterculture art.

View this post on Instagram

Lobster roll #lobsterroll #providence

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

The restaurant was called NicoBella’s, and the ambiance was good, if you’re into taking acid and watching Happy Days. As the food goes, a lobster roll is a lobster roll. It was good, but there’s a cult following on lobster rolls I’ve never understood. This might out me as a classless savage but I’ve never been particularly wowed by lobster and mayonnaise. It’s like chewy crab. I’d rather have not chewy crab, and then I also get to keep $10.

We settled up and continued our journey, bearing witness to Providence’s many splendors.

View this post on Instagram

Mural time 😎 #providence #art #wallmanifesto

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

There was a preponderance of corporate art, which is exactly what it sounds like, and a pretty sick mural adjacent to  a building on which someone had painted a lengthy treatise on the importance of imagination. It was a real tl;dr moment, but I thought it was a cool concept, and took a picture for posterity. You can read it above if you’d like. I will eventually.

View this post on Instagram

Follow your dreams #providence #celebrity #cat

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

What a glow up, folks.

I’m not sure what sentiment they were hoping to convey with this one, but I can’t imagine this is what they were shooting for.

All this sight-seeing had worked up another mighty thirst. I also needed more food. There’s another  reason I’m not particularly moved by lobster rolls: they’re insubstantial. Man cannot live by mayo and hot dog buns alone. I needed a borger, and I needed it quick.

View this post on Instagram

The Hoff beckons #lunch #providence #hassle

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

We nearly made moves on Hoffburger, but wound up about a block down at a place called Trinity Brewhouse. Most of the decision was motivated by the poor lighting in the place. I’d been baking in the light of the hated Daystar for hours, and I needed to retreat into a nice, dank root cellar and replenish my reserves.

View this post on Instagram

More murals, ft: just everyone #providence

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

The gang’s all here. The beer selection was impressive. I ordered the strongest thing, as that’s what I meant by replenishing my reserves. That’s generally my M.O., as I’ve found each subsequent beer is better, contingent on the strength of the previous. Still, the options gave me pause.

When the waitress came by, I ordered what sounded like the greatest concentration of meat and peppers they had available, some chipotle pepper jack monstrosity called the Firehouse. The Girl ordered nachos. I don’t know why. She ate ten chips. I didn’t even want nachos, but my fool’s honor forbade me from not finishing them.

View this post on Instagram

Borger #borger

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

We weren’t long for this world after these calorie bombs. Full of meat and beer, we waddled down two or three more blocks before realizing Night Dinner wasn’t realistic, and we circled back around to the mall. We found the car without re-entering that liminal zone that level-warped us under the bridge.

Back at the hotel, we made our way through the weed fog of Calcutta Hall and into our room. I was asleep within seconds. The Girl got sick and maintains that the nachos poisoned her. If they had, I would have gotten roughly eight times the dose. Sort of a Strong Belwas situation with the honeyed locusts.

I theorized that maybe she got sick because we had been drinking a thousand beers in the sun all day. This suggestion turned out to be unwelcome.

The next morning, I realized our time in Providence was wearing thin. If I was going to reanimate H.P. Lovecraft, it had to be now.

But first, we had to do a “cliff walk”. We gathered our supplies, loaded up the car, and set out for Newport.

Love,

The Bastard

Hengin’ Out on Mystery Hill

 

August 11, 2018. Mystery Hill, New Hampshire.

The continental breakfast was your choice of limp Eggos, individual yogurt containers suspended in ice water, or off-brand chemical cake honey buns. I took a little of everything, variety being the spice of life, and topped it off with three cups of what the truly brazen might describe as coffee. Don’t mistake this for complaining. Continental breakfast is an integral part of the travel experience. If I’d wanted to work around it, I’d have booked a real B&B.

There’s a concept that always puzzled me. You leave home for a change of scenery, then get to a bed-and-breakfast, which is just someone else’s home where you hang out and a stranger takes care of you. I can take care for me. At my own home. The scenery has only technically changed.

First stop, America’s Stonehenge.

sunset

i’m sure you’ve heard this popular colloquialism before

America’s Stonehenge is an active archaeology site in the woods, doing its best to make archaeology an exciting, family-friendly event through the addition of indistinct New Age spirituality, snowshoeing, and an alpaca farm.

The site itself is of nebulous astronomical significance. Carbon dating indicates that the monoliths and cairns served as lines of demarcation for astronomical phenomena, and were probably used in rituals, possibly as far back as 4000 BC. Cosmic entropy has these configurations drifted out of alignment (sort of like how they tried to introduce Ophiuchus as a zodiac sign a few years back), so if these rocks were once for harnessing cosmic juju, they aren’t anymore. Still, pretty cool to see a living chunk of prehistory that may have dated back 6000 years. Some would argue that predates Creation.

20180811_104308

“this is a wigwam. it was probably constructed more recently than 4000 BC, and they usually have walls”

 

20180811_104832

ooo somebody up in that henge

20180811_104744

yall ever have cave anger

20180811_104005Girl: “what time is it?”
me: “time for you to get a sundial”

 

20180811_110221

Oracle Cave interior. i bet that’s what they called it in 4000 BC

20180811_110448.jpg

“an etching of an antelope running.” art has since evolved

20180811_110656.jpg

now we’re talkin

Nobody’s sure what belief structure dominated in New Hampshire millennia ago, but this table was constructed at the epicenter of this astronomically significant point with a discernible blood channel and a hidden “bed”, carved out way under the rock, so that sound would carry up from under the table while the source of the sound remained hidden.

Metal.

After that we went along the hiking trail and touched all the ominously named monoliths, like the “Eye Stone” and the “Solstice Stone” and for some reason the “Bert Stone”, assuming it would imbue us with stat bonuses like in Skyrim.

I have my suspicions that the last stone there, the thicc Venus of Haverhill, is a more recent addition.

We visited the alpacas on the way out.

It was starting to rain and we hadn’t eaten anything since the several honey buns which were, strictly speaking, not food. We bailed for the forgotten city of Portsmouth. It would be the most like a Lovecraft story I’ve ever lived in real life. The irony there is I didn’t feel particularly eldritch at Mystery Hill, and legend has it visiting the megalith site was big H.P.’s inspiration for The Dunwich Horror.

We didn’t get to stick around til dusk. A real bummer, since you know what they frequently and publicly say: there’s nothing like an America’s Stonehenge sunset.

Love,

The Bastard

Storming the Castle

August 10, 2018. Groton, Massachusetts. 

The itch was too much to resist. The Delf was getting claustrophobic. The skyscrapers were closing in, as were the perpetually growing mounds of garbage that have not once been collected from anywhere in the city since Ben Franklin invented both Philadelphia and garbage. I needed a breather.

The Girl and I opted for New Hampshire this time around. Our last few jaunts had been to the desert, and while they were about 50% fun, after a while you know what sand looks like. Colorado is on the agenda, but we needed something we could squeeze into three days, and I just did Maine and Massachusetts.

New Hampshire is laughably tiny. Once we set up base camp in Manchester, the suspiciously rustic “most populous city” in NH, we accidentally ranged out across state lines twice.

It was six hours from Philly. Toll roads remain arbitrary, but become much more considerate as you head north. It costs around $12 to get from the bottom of PA to the top. It’s $5 to escape from New Jersey, even if you just wandered in by accident. Passing through the godless snarl of NYC traffic is $15. After that, you plow up into New England and you can stay on the turnpike for hours, tolls will be like $1. One was actually 50 cents.

Really, guys? Like we don’t have it bad enough?

At some point in Massachusetts, we happened on an ambiguous temple “COMING SOON!” It didn’t claim a religion, but the only thing blocking the access road was a length of chain, and golden spires were visible in the trees. We parked and investigated.

20180810_183335

It was just rising up in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know any of the characters embossed on the spires. I concluded it had something to do with that black sarcophagus full of mummy juice.

I’ve since done a little more research and discovered that this is going to be a shared Muslim and Hindu temple, which I found bizarre. I’m admittedly unfamiliar with the specifics of Hindu scripture, but I’m fairly certain Islamic theology operates on that Judeo-Christian fan favorite about “No gods before me”, let alone a whole pantheon of them. I also seem to remember some strongly worded bits about “no idols nor graven image”.

(Leviticus 26:1-2 if you’re not a tahrif type, Quran 9.5 if you are.)

The shared temple cover story didn’t hold up to scrutiny. That was a spontaneously generating Nyaralthotemple. New England is filthy with Old Ones.

We bailed before we were descended upon by any unknowable horrors from the black spaces between the stars, stopping for the worst coffee in America on our way to Bancroft’s Castle.

Bancroft’s Castle is a deliciously American story. It starts in 1906 with a renaissance man named General William Bancroft, a soldier, politician, and businessman who decides he’s done enough for one lifetime and he’s going to settle down in the idyllic hills of the charmingly named Groton, Massachusetts. He looks at his 401k and says, “You know what? I’m gonna build a retirement castle.”

He badly underestimates how much it costs to build a castle, which makes you wonder how effective a businessman he was. Our man is over budget by the time he’s built the tower and the bungalow.

He lives in his little Iggy Koopa boss tower for 12 years, then sells it to Doctor Harold Ayers. Doc Ayers converts it into a sanatorium, raking in $20 a week per tuberculosis patient (that’s about $900 a month nowadays, adjusting for inflation), which must have pissed Bancroft off immensely.

He maintained that racket until the late 1920s, and when the sanatorium closed it was converted into a social center and lodge for the Groton Hunt Club. This continued until July 4, 1932, when the castle was burnt down by a firecracker. Must have been one hell of a siege.

Perhaps due to how badly and consistently it failed at being a castle, Bancroft Castle was abandoned. Since Groton Hill was used for hangings in the 1600s, and since it’s a ruin in New England, and since it was once a TB sanatorium, it is alleged to be chock full of ghosts.

 

Despite its inefficacy, I could understand the appeal.

20180810_185654_Pano.jpg

The bungalow had nothing on the tower proper.

 

In addition to all its other failings, it seemed like it would be pretty easy to scale.

20180810_190850

as seen with Adventure Hat, the stupidest functional headwear New Mexico had to offer

On the way back to the car, the Girl elbowed me in the ribs. Like I wasn’t already bleeding everywhere from my botched superhero landing getting down off the tower.

“Do you see that?”

“Ghosts? Or bears?”

My hands were up. Punching wouldn’t phase either of those things, but damn it, I had to try.

She pointed up into a tree.

 

our ornithologist friend confirmed it as a red-tailed hawk

I’d never seen a red-tailed hawk that close before. It wasn’t even a little frightened of us or the spectral bears. We gawped up at it for five minutes or so, watching it bop around and ruffle its huge clunky body, scoping for vermin, then the mosquitos got too bad and we got back on the road.

Next stop on our New Hampshire trip: actually New Hampshire.

Love,

The Bastard

Berlin: Outsider Art of the Anne Frank Zentrum and East Side Gallery

December 4, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

After the Panoptikum, I tried to head into the nearby Monsterkabinett for reasons that I feel should be self-evident. I’d later find out it was a little more Muppety than I’d have liked, but I still didn’t get the chance to investigate thoroughly since it’s open like 3 hours a day starting at 8pm and I wasn’t about to stand in the rain for six hours.

In order to get turned away from the Monsterkabinett entrance, you need to go down a sketchy alley full of hipsters and white dreadlocks, the walls themselves cacophonous with unrelated graffiti and half-finished or sabotaged murals. The centerpiece is a slightly cockeyed reimagining of Anne Frank.

20171205_124415.jpg

man, you can almost hear “Oh Comely”

She was flanked by a couple of anatomically correctish statues.

Nearby is a door that neatly encapsulates whatever the hell is going on here.

20171205_124317.jpg

An appreciable warning, considering.

They got sort of a thing for cyclopes.

20171205_124341

no idea what was going on here, but i instinctively hated it. “entfuhrt” means kidnapped. unhelpful

20171205_124458.jpg

here either, but i hated it less

20171205_124534.jpg

“keep the buttons open”

I took this sage advice from the terrible minion and faded out of the alley, into a sort of plywood tunnel that led past several different construction areas on the road to East Berlin. The inside was also decorated, though less imaginatively.

20171205_132516.jpg

it was here i discovered Guaranteed Value Flight of the Conchords. at the time and based on the posters i thought they were advertising for a community college, but it turns out they’re refugees fleeing a war. whoops

The delineation between West and East Berlin is just as clear now as it was before the fall of the wall. Stop on a corner and look around. Do you see any Indian restaurants? Do you see any restaurants or stores at all? If the answer to these questions are “no”, you’re in East Berlin, where the specter of communism is spanging at the stoplight because there are no businesses for it to hang out in front of.

The exception being a single depressing Subway restaurant built into the bottom of a brutalist office building. I tried to take a picture of it, but my camera started weeping.

After walking for entirely too goddamn long in the rain (as discussed, Berlin is impossibly huge and I really should’ve made more of an effort at figuring out public transit), I arrived at the crumbling remnants of the Berlin wall, alias the East Side Gallery.

There were tons of pieces along this ridiculously long wall, but most of them didn’t warrant documentation. I photographed the best ones whenever I could get the relentless selfie patrol out of my way. You’d think they would be dissuaded by the rain, the cold, the lack of available nutrition, and my low, guttural snarling, but they didn’t even care, man. They’re like the fuckin’ mail. Rain, sleet, or snow, their IG posts must go through.

I slipped through and checked out the other side as well. It was less ornate.

20171205_133513

haha gottem

Well, that was enough for me. I hadn’t eaten in a day or two, and it was starting to get to me. All this slightly hunched rainwalking was killing my back, too. I made my way back toward West Berlin.

20171205_132900.jpg

you and me both, bud

It was pretty easy to tell once I’d crossed back into West Berlin.

20171205_125352.jpg

even if your German’s not real strong you can noodle this one out

I didn’t get a Salat though. Instead, I found my way to what looked like a traditional German restaurant, named something like Grunstein’s Essen. I was cracking my spine in the warmth and relative dryness when the grinning Indian man behind the bar told me “anywhere you like, my friend.” Must’ve been Grunstein. He served me Leberkäse, which can be most accurately described as “spam loaf”. At the time, it was mana from heaven.

20171205_135313_HDR.jpg

I turned the corner from this sweet castle bridge and saw a mural that blew most of the approved pieces in the East Side Gallery clean out of the water.

20171205_135401.jpg

For all the surrealist nightmare art I’d come across in Berlin, nothing did more to my psyche than this terrifying poster.

20171205_123706

who are they even marketing to with this

I hobbled back to the hostel and spent my final night in a room full of obnoxiously snoring strangers. The next day would begin my long voyage home. And long it was. 48 combined hours between planes and airport layovers. But that’s a grim tale for another day.

Love,

The Bastard