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.

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WHICH #hats #headwear #war #London #bastardtravel

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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: The Absolute State of the Guggenheim

Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Bilbao, Spain.
Soundtrack: Machine Head – Aesthetics of Hate

More like the GuggenLAME.
More like the Go-On-Home.

Photography was strictly prohibited at the Guggenheim. Fortunately for you, I took detailed phone memos about the museum’s handful of kept artists, because I’m so dedicated to my craft.

Allow me to preface this little romp with this disclaimer:

I want to kick every abstract expressionist square in the dick.

And we’re off!

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Richard Serra (blog fodder)

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The first exhibit in the museum was devoted to Richard Serra, an American associated with the Process Art movement. They gave him a huge hangar-bay room with amphitheater acoustics, and he filled it with slightly bent sheets of titanium.

I thought one was a maze, and followed the curliecue all the way to the innermost point. It was empty. The art itself was that the sheets of metal were very large curlicues.

They all bent in strange places. As you can see, some of them were almost halfpipes, but stopped short of becoming good for something.

I understand art doesn’t need to fulfill a why. Art is art for it’s own sake.

But like… why?

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Lucio Fontana (blog fodder)

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Golden boy #2 at the Guggenheim was Lucio Fontana, Argentine-Italian founder of the Spatialism movement and proud owner of at least one knife.

His entire gallery was full of canvases he slashed a couple times. In the 1950s, this was the height of modern art. They called him a genius. In 2019, they would just call you Kyle.

The entire room was full of these twenty-second masterpieces, as well as battalions of well-dressed Europeans stroking their chins and saying “Hrmmm” with a little R in there so you know it’s extra fancy.

Art is supposed to evoke emotion, and this very much did. I was livid. It cost me €10 to get in here.

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Jenny Holzer (blog fodder)

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Deranged American LED queen Jenny Holzer classed up the joint and redeemed the first floor with with her Installation for Bilbao. It was 9 enormous two-sided LED pillars in a tall, dark room. The English text in red faced out, while the Spanish and Basque text in blue was on the other side, and you had to enter the room to see it.

I scoured the internet for a transcript of the poems she had running up, but they’re nowhere to be found. I suppose that makes sense. It would detract from the incentive to go see the piece in person.

The sentences she chose were succinct, most not even filling the length of the poles before they disappeared into the ceiling.

I went up to the second floor. It was closed. “Coming soon.” All right.

I went up to the third floor, which promised pieces by the “Old Masters”.

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Giorgio Morandi (blog fodder)

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Most of the level was Giorgio Morandi.

Friends, do you like still lives? You know, like paintings of bottles and fruit and shit. No fruit this time. Just bottles. Would you like them more if they were kind of wobbly, and not very good?

Well, you’re in luck, because there’s a hundred of them! Some of them were next to Renaissance paintings by the Italian Masters, subtitled with things like, “the city skyline in the background of this piece inspired Morandi’s configuration of bottles in this other painting of the same twelve bottles he painted for his entire career.”

It wasn’t all bad though.

Most of it was. Very bad. But aside from Queen Jenny, there were two other redemption arcs.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat (blog fodder)

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There was only one painting by American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, and it was explosive. Googling the rest of his gallery shows all his pieces are fraught with frenetic energy and anger. Shades of Steadman, too.

Basquiat was a political activist, as well as a neo-expressionist, a primitivist, and a street/graffiti artist. He died of a heroin overdose just in time to join the 27 club.

This piece is called Man of Naples and according to the plaque, Basquiat made it because he was sick of his Italian patron, who had earned his wealth through selling meat. He referred to him as a “pork merchant” and sent him this, which is probably one of the most colorful and public two-weeks-notices in history.

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Anselm Kiefer (blog fodder)

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The last and probably best artist in the museum was Anselm Kiefer, a German mixed-media artist who made paintings of things that actually looked like things, and expressed meaning concisely without your needing to read his biography ahead of time.

Sunflowers, above, is done entirely in black and white, but communicates the interplay of life and death, mourning and rebirth, pretty clearly.

Kiefer had a room all to himself, and his paintings were enormous and ambitious, painted woodcuts or shellaced oil paintings. One looked like a photomanipulation he did by hand with a brush. Kiefer alone was worth the price of admission.

And a damn good thing.

There’s a quote by Craig Darmauer that goes like this:

“Modern art = I could do that + Yeah but you didn’t.”

That about covers it. Why would I paint exactly three stripes on a canvas and call it done? That’s a con. That’s playing on the self-aggrandizement of your audience; you provide them virtually nothing and they project these elaborate unconscious schema onto your work, then herald you as a genius when all you did was–

Oh. I get it.

That’s pretty punk rock too, I guess, but you’re still no Basquait.

Next stop, London.

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.

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Dog fountain #perros #bilbao #bastardtravel #Spain

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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.

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Cool bank #santander #bilbao #spain #bastardtravel

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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.

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and uhh this thing #bilbao #bastardtravel #Spain

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#Guggenheim #bilbao #bridge #bastardtravel

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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: The Nightmare Gallery

Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Burzum – Dunkelheit

My flight to Bilbao was cancelled due to a ground crew strike, but the airport set me up with another three hours later, ensuring I’d miss the fire festival. Ladygirl’s flight back to the smoldering ruin of Philadelphia (go birds) was not similarly afflicted, and she boarded a bus at the crack of dawn, leaving me to my devices.

I already got my cafe time in, and tickatacka’d plenty. What’s a boy to do?

Off I drifted in a weird, widening gyre through the Gothic Quarter, contemplating early beers or late breakfasts and declining them, sick of consuming, but still hungry for something. I thought about the Picasso museum, but looked at the line, and the screaming school children, and decided I didn’t care about Picasso that much. Picasso cared about Picasso enough for all of us.

gSome eldritch entity heard my plea and sundered the world. From that rending, nestled in the dark, bloomed the entry to the Museu Europeu d’Arte Modern, or MEAM. I stared into it, and it back into me. We could each hear the other breathing.

I went in.

Uno adult, general. Por favor,” I said to the demon behind the counter. I handed her coins. I’m not sure how much, but I’m sure its equivalence would be 30 pieces of silver. Her face split open like a shark’s grin.

Absolutamente.”

After my last brush with MEAM, also chronicled here, I wound up crouching in the alley with the homeless, chainsmoking my way through what may have been a panic attack or some kind of dissociation. Some sort of madness. I walked out unhinged, and it took me twenty minutes to rehinge.

It greeted me like an old friend:

“Other people mean nothing,” MEAM whispered its dissonance into my head. “Their words are cold wind, their applause the ghostly echoes of a long-empty mausoleum. Ascension can only be gained through power. Reach within.”

“Jesus, dude,” I said.

The first piece that really drove a chisel into my cerebrum was La paleta de olvido, which is appropriate, since that was its subject matter. It didn’t hit proper until I clumsily translated the title – “The Blade (or maybe palette) of Forgetting” — when figured out the sticky note.

“I’m me.”

Then came “The Process of Transformation of Fear into Art”. Perseus, bare-assed, vulnerable and exposed, swinging the still-screaming head of Medusa. One missed bounce, one unaccounted-for twist and the gaze will fall on him, petrify him on the spot. His horse is panicking, completely out of control. His only defense is his helmet, guarding the brain. Intellectualization. Plato’s Monster all over again.

Nonato, a decaying giant of cast bronze grows from the floor, grasps at his own pedestal. He’s pushing himself out. The rest of the way into our world.

Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you’d walk down a dark hallway or go into a dark room, and you’d know something was in there with you, watching you? And you’d ride that thrill of horror as far as it would go, just to see how long you could stand there, staring into the melding shapes in the dark, before you had to turn on the lights?

Maybe not. Maybe that was a me thing. Either way, that’s what it was like getting close to this sculpture. It was real enough that it looked like it was breathing. I was especially cautious of this after that Galileo the other day.

Found the plaque. It’s on the bottom. Whoops. The title was something like “Fig0315”, not sure on the artist.

Diana herself, done justice in the best artistic interpretation I’ve ever seen, and wearing Chuck Taylors. There’s an incredible amount of detail in the rock surrounding her, with hidden faces, shapes, and symbols. All sorts of subliminal seeds, slithering in and taking root while you’re distracted.

No opaque horror in this one, but something was going on somewhere in the earth tone frenzy and soft, sweeping curves. I kept staring but couldn’t make sense of it, but the implication of sense is there, like having something on the tip of your tongue. Just out of your mental reach.

“All men will be forgotten,” the MEAM burbled telepathically, like black tendrils in my mind. “Most are already dead and haven’t realized it. Scrabbling for praise is the pathetic pursuit of the doomed. Immortality is thankless, but the only noble pursuit.”

“Okay,” I whispered, and fled into the streets.

Neither were they safe.

I don’t think I dipped into Lovecraftian madness on this go-around, but I suppose the insane never realize they’re insane. Either way, my faculties were well-enough operational to get me to the airport, and put me on a plane.

Hurry hurry hurry.

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.

 

Reykjavik: The Sculpture Garden

Friday, September 20, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: That Handsome Devil – Treefood

In the heart of downtown, at Reykjavik’s pinnacle, wedged firmly between Cafe Loki and the more practical landmark of Hallgrimskirkja, there’s a museum devoted to Einar Jonsson, Iceland’s first sculptor. Behind the museum is an elaborate sculpture garden, featuring some of the only trees available in Iceland and some truly bizarre metal sculptures.

Braxton set me straight on Icelandic soil composition. Apparently due to the severity of the weather, the soil depth sufficient for tree roots just kind of… runs off and gets ground away. In most of the country, the mountains and valleys are bare, or mossed a greyish green.

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Sculpture garden #sculpture #reykjavik #bastardtravel

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The majority of Einar Jonnson’s works explore his fascination with aging and mortality. The first one in the park came out swinging.

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Thor wrestling with age #Thor #sculpture #bastardtravel

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There’s an ubermensch vibe when Icelandic people talk about Thor. He’s not just a cultural hero, he’s an ideal in the same way Superman is, which is why he was the schmuck selected to grapple with Age’s weird, saggy cadaver.

The underbelly is filled with people, men and women, old and young, the faces and names that make up the bulk of a life, gathered over the course of Age’s body. He’s twisted in agony. His face is sallow and gaunt, a lifeless, expressionless mask on his broken neck.

And there’s Thor, supporting the weight on his shoulders, clasping the weathered hands, struggling to prop up the weight. There’s nothing antagonistic in this wrestling, aside from the stressful arm postures that define Jonsson’s work.

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The King of Atlantis #sculpture #bastardtravel

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The King of Atlantis, with his stupid pyramid hat, vibed like a shoutout to Aleister Crowley. The choice of cows, native neither to Iceland nor Egypt, might reflect Moloch. There was a strong Christian sentiment in a lot of the sculptures that didn’t move me sufficiently to photograph (what a weird coincidence), and this dude with that context might be a warning about barking up the wrong tree.

Unless I’m overthinking it, and it’s just a dude in a stupid pyramid hat.

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Spring #sculpture #bastardtravel

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Ladygirl’s favorite sculpture in the park, Spring. Unsurprising, since it’s the only one with even an echo of optimism. The dejected angel with the twisted wing strains to crack open a skull and release the enthusiastic little dryads inside. Everything that died in winter gives way for the coming new, beautiful growth, even in Iceland, possibly including the angel.

The angel’s youth shouldn’t be glossed over here, either.

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Grief #sculpture #bastardtravel

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I deal with grief a lot in my line of work, and this about sums it up. The little fate-ling holds up a hand. Hard stop on this particular lifeline. The subject of the painting emotes overdramatically, twisting up his body and hiding his face. The grief is authentic, but there’s no range of expression that allows for it, so the subject dips into comic and caricature. He reaches for the corpse of the deceased, but it’s lifeless, an outline shaped like the one he loved. A bare scratching on the wall.

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Earth #sculpture #bastardtravel

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Simple, and a little opaque, but it still has its power. The bald-headed giant is Earth, and it’s doing its damnedest to support us. We see that strenuous arm position again. Try to hold your arms out straight like that for a minute, see how well it goes. Earth is doing that nonstop, bearing our weight with mountaing discomfort as we catch a nap, oblivious. The take-home is recycle.

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Spirit and Matter #sculpture #bastardtravel

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More of the weird arm position, Spirit and Matter working together to push a squirming human being into human Being from between their shared legs.

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Sleep #sculpture #bastardtravel

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The otherworldly little nude of the woman is quietly reassuring the contorted giant. Sleep will make it better. The giant’s doing all he can to shut out the world, clenching up painfully, but here he still is. Insomniacs will feel this one.

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Wave of Ages #sculpture #bastardtravel

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Memorializing the suffering of those that came before, caught and struggling in the whirlpool of the past but necessary sacrifice for the beauty of the present, the realization of the wave.

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The End #sculpture #bastardtravel

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The End brings all these threads together. The pictures don’t do it justice. The first woman is young and attractive, sex distilled, her hands tangled up in her hair and her breasts thrust out, legs spread in invitation. The second is withered and aging, clenching her fists to either side of her failing body, eyes closed to what’s happening around her. The third woman is further into the decay, her face drawn and skeletal. No ignoring it now. She grasps at the chest of the big central figure in desperation, the way she might have two iterations ago, when she was young and hot and exploding with life.

The central figure, the largest, is stretched on a rack and writhing. He’s at the end of his line, as evidenced by the exposed skull, turned away from the pleading women, each pleading in her own way. The desperation of the last one tortures him, mars his flesh, but there’s nothing he can do about it. His hands are bound.

And on the other side of the statue, hidden from the women and the skull giant, there’s a young man. His upper body is positioned similarly to the giant’s, as though stretched on the rack, tortured, crucified. His head lolls, his eyes closed. Dead to the world, at a glance.

Look closer. In picture #3, we can see his feet are planted. He’s not dangling. He’s standing. He’s supporting the weight of the giant, and the time-lapse of womanhood that got dragged along for the ride. His feet are planted, and more than just euphemistically; one of his legs grows into the trunk of a twisting tree. He’s rooting them all there.

He is the dying giant, and this is his life. He is the architect of his own torment, and he plays the victim right until the end.

If I still smoked, I’d need a cigarette.

Love,

B.

 

 

Reykjavik: Up the Pönx

Wednesday, September 18, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: The Utangarðsmenn – It’s Easy

I slept ten hours and woke feeling like a human, ready to face the constant, relentless torrent of rain.

Deep in the bowels of central Reykjavik, there was once a public restroom. It’s unknown how that chapter ended, but in the next, an Icelandic crust punk bought the whole big bastard and converted it into a museum that celebrated Iceland’s storied punk rock legacy.

Now, if you’re like me, you came of age during the punk revival of the early 2000s, and so paid due diligence to the bands that laid the foundation back before punk died in the 80s. For a punctuated history of this, check out the song Droppin’ Like Flies by the Real McKenzies.

The revival bands exhumed and reanimated aspects of classic punk rock, like fast drums, frenetic guitarwork, lackluster vocals, and body odor, but repackaged it for a kinder, gentler millennium. The anger had been bastardized into pop-punk, repackaged and sold by bands like Anti-Flag, The Casualties, and fucking Green Day.

Bands like Rancid, The Offspring, AFI, and other such classics from Tony Hawk/Crazy Taxi soundtracks helped shape the frog-march of misery and angst that was my adolescence, but they weren’t punk in the way the Sex Pistols or the Dead Kennedys were. These bands helped voice the incomprehensible rage and  hormonal onslaught of puberty in the decaying, carcinogenic boomtown ruin of Northeastern Pennsylvania. For an accurate snapshot of this particular barking at the moon, Sometimes I Feel Like by Bad Religion.

I did my research, listened to the old bands no matter how bad they sucked (don’t pretend the Sex Pistols didn’t suck, you fuckin poser), and had a Crimson Ghost patch on a thrift shop leather jacket. I put spikes into my boots by hand, punching the holes with a kitchen knife (what tf is an awl?), and I got suspended for it. Sometimes, late at night, when the city is asleep and there’s no risk of my being caught, I’ll draw the shades and listen to Horror Business. My credentials are unassailable. That said, I wasn’t aware of Iceland’s contribution to punk as a genre.

Dr. Gunni corrected that for me.

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Punk museum entrance #punk #reykjavik #bastardtravel

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“This is it,” I said. “There’s no other reason someone would print a Crass sign.”

We descended into the underworld, whereupon the door explained why people charge for things.

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enter #punk #bastardtravel

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“Oh!” said a stout, wizened man with a green mohawk and a sleeveless vest. “I didn’t see you there! Come in, I’ll do my little speech.”

Dr. Gunni looked and smelled punk, all right. He described this subterranean bathroom as “his little piece of Heaven” and explained that the walls tell a story in chronological order, so it’s best to start on the right and go counterclockwise, through each stall, until you return to the center room.

“That will chart the progression of Icelandic punk from antiquity to today. And it’s kind of funny, so make sure not to skip any. Is that for me?” he asked, pointing to the krona in my hand.

“Absolutely.”

“Super. Someone is in there right now so you might wait a few minutes so you don’t get stuck in the same part, get all crowded. On the ceiling, you will see records with headphones hanging down. Each of those headphones are playing those records, so go ahead, familiarize yourself with Icelandic punk. When you’re done with the museum, we have a drum set, guitar, bass, feel free to make some music, smash it around, make noise, I don’t care.”

I liked Dr. Gunni a lot.

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It means "outsiders" #punk #reykjavik #bastardtravel

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Utangarðsmenn were by far my favorite. For your listening pleasure, the shockingly long punk song It’s Easy, clocking in at four minutes due to a beautiful dub breakdown. Since Op Ivy didn’t hit the scene until 1987, it’s fair to call the Outsiders proto-ska-punk.

And the lyrics!

“It’s easy to talk about anarchy when you got someplace to hide,
It’s easy to be a CAAAHmmunist when daddy’s paying for the ride”

The mark of truly great art is that it stands the test of time.

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Punk museum interior #punk #bastardtravel

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The museum itself looked like a good venue should, or like bad houses I’ve lived in did. The defunct urinals were stuffed with broken headphones and instrument cables. The writing on the wall charted the development of Iceland from the viking age to the present, ending each of the pithy little summaries with “No punk.” right up until 1974, at which point we received Pönk.

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Öp tha pönx #punk #bastardtravel

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Due to being a grotesque ogre, the museum delighted me. Ladygirl, on the other hand, is clean, polite, and an unironic fan of disco. She felt badly out of sorts in this particular destroyed men’s room.

After I’d absorbed as much counterculture as I could in a handicapped stall, I made my way back out to the main room and got my hands on the bass. The brand had been sanded off, but it played beautifully. I plopped down on a spray-painted tom that said “FOR SMALL PERSONS TO STAND ON” and ran through Journey to the End of East Bay like a showboating buffoon. A Reykjaviki local was dicking around on the guitar. He played powerchords and I ran a bassline through the progression. We got through eight measures before he got bashful and left, but that’s okay. Eight measures is the length of a punk song anyway.

I told Dr. Gunni this place was incredible and thanked him. He looked at me with a level of disinterest appropriate to his archetype and said, “Sure”.

“That was incredible!” I howled into the rain, once back out on the Reykjavik streets.

“Sure,” Ladygirl also said.

We found a place called Icelandic Street Food, distinct from Reykjavik Street Food in that you got unlimited free refills. I ate a boat’s worth of Plokkfiskur.

Plokkfiskur is smashed cod mixed into mashed potatoes and that’s it. Bone apple teeth. Phenomenal.

I’d been setting the pace these past few days, and Ladygirl was ready to do vacation things, like “sitting down” and “reading” or some such nonsense. We returned to the hostel and I finished a book about Ireland and a book about psychopaths. The reviews will be forthcoming next time I’m forced to sit down.

Love,

The Bastard

Reykjavik: The Only Viking

September 16, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Ensiferum – In My Sword I Trust

What you have to understand about Icelandair is they maintain their planes at a cozy 115 degrees Farenheit in reverence of the old gods, so demonstrating that our modern faith is powerless against them.

A red eye flight is just a loud, shitty hotel in the sky. I slept the whole five and a half hours in my seat. There’s no leg room on Icelandair, which is strange considering how tall the average Icelander is, so I curled my legs around my neck like a Cirque de Soleil mutant and slept in a sweaty, agonized yogi pretzel until we touched down in the Viking capital of the world.

Every ATM at the airport rejected my debit card, scolding me in Icelandic. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I would never find out. Ladygirl covered our bus fare and we rode into the city proper. She had never been out of the greatest country in the world before, and was suitably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

“You know, I don’t even feel that bad!” she said, marveling at the grim foggy mountain ranges that served as Winterfell’s backdrop. “I thought it’d be a lot worse, only getting a few hours sleep on the plane.”

“Yeah, me too,” I lied. My legs were still on fire from trying to crumple them into a shape that would fit in the plane-shaped oven. To win them a few extra inches, I had to sacrifice my cervical vertebrae, rotating my head around a full 180 degrees like that heroin baby in Trainspotting.

The bus dropped us at the station, where Ladygirl was outraged to learn that many bus stations in Yurp attempt to charge you to use the bathroom.

“I don’t have to go that bad,” she said scornfully.

“And never will,” I assured her. “First time it happened to me was in Barcelona. Little do these Yurpeans realize we’re from Philly.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you know what they say in Philly,” I said. “Somebody’s gotta shit in the street.”

“Nobody says that but you.”

“And yet, I’ve never shat in the street. Figure that one out.”

We walked out into the sudden, explosive rainstorm that turned out to be a defining characteristic of Iceland.

Reykjavik doesn’t have weather as much as randomly generated dynamic events, like a videogame rushed to release. In our first day, the temperature fluctuated forty degrees with no bearing on time of day. It would go from cloudless to pouring rain; on one occasion, it did both at the same time. I don’t know how.

We trudged uphill through the gale, turned the corner, and discovered Reykjavik’s functional north star, the Hallgrimskirkja.

The preposterous height of the Hallgrimskirkja allows it to be seen from any point in Reykjavik, as well as from some neighboring towns. That wasn’t hyperbole. It’s visible for miles.

Properly oriented, we made our way to Reykjavik Roasters. Drip coffee is rejected in much of Yurp in favor of fetishized espresso, which tastes like embittered butt, so I tend to order whatever I don’t recognize and hope for the best.

I sipped at my coffee and gazed out the window at the beautiful scenic overlook of a vape shop that sold Snapple. I haven’t seen a real Snapple sign in fifteen years.

But, for that matter, I hadn’t heard a Chuck Norris joke in ten years. We’ll get into that later. Suffice it to say, cultural drift in the ‘vik is appropriately, thematically glacial.

I felt my central nervous system blooming like a Discovery documentary time lapse of coral. I drank the space coffee and stared out the window until this rolled up, at which point I decided it was time to go.

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oh no #bastardtravel

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No cat mjolk for me, thanks. Up the road, back toward the gargantuan church, there was a restaurant called Cafe Loki, advertising authentic Icelandic food alongside a painting of Hodr killing Baldur while Loki looks on, crouched like Gollum and giggling. I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of it, but I will in the next few days.

EDIT: Here.

Cafe Loki was really pushing the fermented shark. It’s on the agenda, but I didn’t want to press my luck for breakfast. Ladygirl and I split a plate of smoked lamb flatbread and an entree called “Thor’s Plate”.

Sheep’s head jelly is about as good as it sounds. An acquired taste, I’m sure.

Mashed fish is so much better than it sounds! It’s like egg salad with a vague fish taste. Not tuna, either. Good fish taste. I wasn’t floored by the bean salad, but the mashed turnips were phenomenal, too. They’re great as mashing things.

We thanked Loki and backtracked to the Hallgrimskirkja, pausing to admire the viking statue in the courtyard.

“Fitspo,” Ladygirl said.

“Who do you think it is?” I asked.

“I’m going to guess Leif Erikson?” she said.

“See, that’s my guess, too,” I said. “But I only know the one Viking.”

“Could be Erik the Red,” she said. “I only know him because he’s Leif Erikson’s dad.”

I realized the hotel behind us was called Hotel Leiffur Eiriksson. We investigated the statue. Guess what?

“I guess I know a couple other vikings,” I said. “Ragnar. Floki. Arvid. It’s just, they’re not real, and probably not gonna get a statue in the epicenter of Reykjavik.”

While we were poking around inside the church, the organist made his way to the hidden seat and began practicing.

Back out into the streets of Reykjavik we went. Ladygirl pivoted suddenly toward the sea and said, “I wanna go look at the water.”

It was uncertain going at first, but I reasoned that since it was an island, any direction would technically get us to the water.

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Found the water #reykjavik #bastardtravel

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The wind picked up and it started to rain again, but we were past that now. There was too much caffeine in my system to feel anything ever again. I jittered along the bank until I discovered the Sun Voyager sculpture, which every “Top Ten Must See Reykjavik” list had been pushing on me for weeks.

A troop of middle-aged Eastern European men wordlessly pushed a cell phone into Ladygirl’s hands, then posed for a picture in front of the… statue? In front of the art.

When we next wandered in range of free wi-fi, at a sketchy but salvatic fish and chips shop called “Reykjavik Street Food”, we received a signal from our contact, a former classmate of Ladygirl’s from the frozen north (stateside) named, for the purposes of this story, Braxton.

“He says he borrowed his boss’s car and he’s coming to pick us up!” Ladygirl told me. “Where should I tell him to meet us?”

“The corner of UHHHH Ingólfsstræti and Hverfisgata.”

She stared at me for a moment.

“I’m gonna tell him ‘Reykjavik Street Food’.”

We stepped outside to wait for him, and it immediately began to monsoon.

Love,

The Bastard