Book Review: Zen in the Art of Archery

Zen in the Art of ArcheryZen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A German professor of philosophy gets a job teaching Kant in Japan back in the 1920s, and decides, while he’s there, to look into this Zen business, see what all the hubbub is about. He asks a bunch of natives “How do I get into this Zen thing?” and they all look around, embarrassed, and assure him that he wouldn’t like it because he’s foreign.

Now, you’ve gotta understand, this is before the Beatniks. You couldn’t just smoke mids and Kerouac off in the back of train then claim you’d achieved Nirvana. There was a system, and whenever our professor asked anyone about it, they assured him it was a system of systemlessness, or something equally incomprehensible to his precise prewar German academic mind.

Undeterred, Doc Herrigel keeps demanding Japanese natives teach him to Zen. Eventually somebody cracks and tells him, “You’re not gonna get it. Your only hope is getting involved in one of the traditional Zen arts, and learning Zen by osmosis.” He looks at swordsmanship, martial arts, flower arrangement, and archery, then decides on archery because he was pretty good with a rifle back in the Motherland. It’s probably the same, right?

It is not the same.

He joins up with a Daishadokyo master and begins his agonizing six-year journey toward being kind of good with a bow. Daishadokyo is to Kyūdō, or traditional Japanese archery, as the Spanish Inquisition is to the US Census: they’re both going through the same motions, but one is religious and far more motivated.

From there it follows the formula of every Zen chronicle or kung fu movie montage: The master tells him to do the thing, then stands by and watches as he ballses it up repeatedly and painfully. The master says nothing. The student asks whining questions in an effort to hurry to “the goal” and the master smiles serenely and tells him to keep doing the thing.

Eventually, Herrigel modifies his grip (“I found a better way to do it!”) and surprises his master with a few competent shots. The master is insulted by Herrigel’s attempt to cheat him, and tells him to never darken his door again. Herrigel prostrates himself and begs forgiveness, the master magnanimously grants same, then tells him, “now do the thing”.

For these six years, Herrigel is grappling nonstop with what Zen might potentially be, and how far he feels from getting it. He loses faith. He has doubts. He thinks about quitting a bunch, but he idolizes the master too much to go through with it. Eventually, when he’s going through the motions, the master’s like “That’s it! Nailed it!”

Herrigel releases a mighty “HOOTY HOO!” of triumph, at which point the master recoils in revulsion.

“You can’t be excited about succeeding,” he said. “That’s not Zen. You’re getting your gross ego-grease all over the archery.”

Herrigel is like “A thousand pardons, senpai.”

Master is like, “Now do the thing.”

Eventually, Herrigel manages to get automatic enough in his archery that he gets an inkling of Zen, and the arrow shoots itself. His life is changed. We did it, fellas.

Good book. Good Zen story. I ugly-laughed at the little swordmaster koan at the end, paraphrased as follows:

Young man seeks out swordmaster in his hermitage, says, “teach me to the be the next hokage”. Swordmaster says, “Sure”, and makes him do all of his chores. The kid is the swordmaster’s butler for like a year, making rice, sweeping the dirt floor, washing his stank-ass socks, before he hits his limit and demands the swordmaster teach him swordmastery, damnit! That’s what I’m here for!

Swordmaster says, “Sure”. Everything is the same, though now the swordmaster will unexpectedly hit the kid with a stick as he does the chores. These beatings continue for another year or so, until one day, the swordmaster is facing the fire, working on frying up some eggs. The kid recognizes this as his chance. He grabs the whuppin’ stick, sneaks up on his sensei, and KIYAAAAA brings it down on the back of his head!

Swordmaster blocks effortlessly with the pan full of eggs.

The kid is like “oh shit. I thought this was just weird old man sadism, but you were for real this whole time.” And thus, he gets a little nugget of Zen.

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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.

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.

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.

 

 

Book Review: The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The dude who wrote Bagger Vance writes an immensely powerful and relatable bit of feel-good motivational speaking wherein he names our mutual demon. He calls it Resistance, and its sole purpose to keeping you from doing “your work”, the Aristotlean virtue you were put on this planet to do.

Resistance is highly seductive. It knows your work is hard. It knows things like “research” and “editing” are not your work, but peripheral to it, and thus, easy bait-and-switches. Resistance loves when you procrastinate. It wants you to clean the house, go to the gym, dick around on social media, because none of those things are your work and it hates you and doesn’t want you to do your work, by any means necessary.

Resistance is soma from Brave New World. It’s comfortable and widely available and it lets you not care about the thing you’re supposed to be doing. But you know you’re supposed to be doing it. It’s your work. Otherwise, you’re just taking up space, and you’re going to get depressed, and Resistance will gloat over all the time it managed to get you to sacrifice to it.

Resistance isn’t an abstract. It’s an actual physical demon, something actively possessing you, keeping you from finishing your book or painting or whatever you do, and it must be exorcised as such.

Pressfield says the key is deliberate daily practice. We’re all rarring to go when we get hit by the inspiration, and we bemoan its erratic schedule. We want to be inspired, but we want it on our schedule. Pressfield says that’s greedy because it’s not us doing the writing, it’s inspiration. We’re a channel for it. Whether you believe in metaphysics or not, we don’t know where thoughts come from; we don’t decide to think and then think. Thinking just happens, in whatever order it wants to, and the subconscious that it bubbles up from is as foreign and indistinct and mystical as God or the muses or the cosmos or whatever else you wanna call it.

Solution is simple: open the landing site for inspiration at the same time every day, and it’ll come by more frequently. Force yourself to write each morning. Eventually, mornings will be when you’re inspired. You won’t feel guilty all the time, and you’ll be conquering Resistance and doing your goddamned work.

This book is a masterpiece and I’m probably going to reread it soon; the audiobook is only like 3 hours long.

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Denver: Thanatos Themes

Sunday, June 30, 2019. Denver, Colorado.

After witnessing this beautiful and omnipresent infrastructure gone awry, we fled the mall. In retrospect, there’s never been a time in my life that “flee the mall” wasn’t the best move.

On the bank of the river, we encountered more modern art. It was less explicable than the factoid cow.

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Kinda cool bridge #Denver

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Even before we saw the bus run that dude down, even before my knee-jerk reflex to tear that bald kid’s ribcage clean out of his body, and the subsequent herculean force of will required to repress the urge, the shadow of death had been firmly ingrained in the day’s plans. Our lunch plans were at a place called Linger, a former mortuary turned restaurant.

A morgue cocktail bar downtown is dead-center my aesthetic, which is a carefully cultivated 50/50 blend of Gomez Addams and something I like to call “apocalypse flannel”. More so, because in college I was briefly the singer and bassist for a band called “Mad Dog Motch and the All-You-Can-Eat Autopsy”.

I say briefly because our guitarist, the eponymous Mad Dog Motch, thought the name “Team Battle” was more in line with both the kind of music, and the amount of Smash Bros, we were playing.

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do u have to #linger #mortuary #spooktya #Denver

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In my deepest heart, I was kind of hoping the tables would be made out of gurneys, or the place would be decorated with those big body drawers you always see in police procedural dramas. No such luck. It was a well-appointed, tastefully decorated multi-floor cocktail bar, and it was poppin off even at 2 pm. The tables were absurdly tiny, though not as bad as in Rhode Island. Can you imagine if I didn’t fit in the morgue? Grimmer and grimmer.

They sat us in a window overlooking the gargantuan metal milk bottle demarcating the LoHi neighborhood. LoHi was named for the lower part of the downtown surrounding Highland Bridge. Denverites love giving the areas with high craft brewery density little two-syllable grunt names, like “NoDo” and “SoBo”.

This turned out to be Little Man Ice Cream, and we would wait in line for thirty minutes in order to get some, once our mortuary dining experience drew to a close.

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Stay hydrated #water #hydrated #denver

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I wasn’t in a cocktail state of mind, considering the events of the previous day. I was giving myself some recoup time. I drank the clearly labeled water, and we wound up splitting a plate of tiny, tiny burger portions.

Pro strat: If you’re exploring a city, don’t eat anything huge unless you’re about to call it a night. Tiny tapas let you experience more of the city, and you’re less inclined to get all slow and logy.

This is less advisable on long-term trips. I came back from my six weeks in Yurp about thirty pounds lighter.

Just looking at this picture, I remember the way my soul sang biting into these little microburgers. That cow did not die in vain.

We left the morgue with spirits lifted, though not in a necromantic way. Ladygirl insisted on the ice cream. I made low moaning noises of disapproval, as I was still hungry for real food and didn’t want ice cream, or to stand still. She used her rhetorician’s degree to make some persuasive arguments, such as “It’s right here!” and “Come onnnnn”, and she was the eventual owner of a giant hipster spin on a cookies and cream cone.

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It has arrived #truck #fashion #style #Denver

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The celebration of life continued by drinking our way hither and yon across LoDo (Lower Downtown).

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rojer #wynkoop #beer #sophisticatedalcoholism

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Wynkoop was my favorite, and we would revisit it a few times over the next two days.

It was a very laid-back vibe. They leaned heavy on Dad rock, so there was a lot of Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC playing, but not very loud. Like elevator music. They also had a giant wood carving of a gorilla, and I cannot believe I didn’t take a picture of it.

As we looked out the window, killing time before our dinner reservation by drinking several obscure beers, a dude on a motor trike rolled up to the light, blasting his own, conflicting Dad rock.

We exchanged thumbs up and he roared off into the late afternoon, presumably on a highway to Hell.

Next episode: A torrent of meat at The Buckhorn Exchange. Both rootin’ and tootin’. Stay tuned.

Love,

The Bastard

Hidden in the Moors

August 12, 2018. Brookline, New Hampshire.

I was drinking the terrible, watery coffee and eating the terrible, watery waffles in the hotel lobby, carboloading for the art gallery we had slated today. Allegedly, they had early Monets. The TV was too loud, so I had no choice but to hear every detail of developing vandal scandal wherein somebody hit Donnie Trump’s walk of fame star with a pickaxe.

Obviously, I chortled. Who didn’t? My mirth enraged a squadron of portly dads, who proceeded to talk too loud about “these goddamn Democrats”, presumably for my benefit. I do have big black glasses and a beard. You couldn’t blame them for jumping to conclusions. After they didn’t point directly at me to tell me what was wrong with my generation, they quieted down and proceeded into some light racism.

The news then heel-face turned into a story about the New Hampshire Food Truck festival that was taking place a mere 15 minutes from my very table. Well, that settled it. To Hell with Monet. Life is the true art.

The Girl eventually woke and I explained to her that culture can only be absorbed by immersion. She blinked at me blearily and said, “That’s nice.”

It was decided. We drove out to the New Hampshire Dome in Milford.

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It was an imposing structure, but the trucks weren’t in it. When you consider what the trucks are for, it makes sense to not put them indoors.

The traffic cone rope and the tiny Hampshirians in their reflective vests pointed us up the hill, into the woods. The obvious choice.

We were not prepared for what we saw.

It was around 11 AM, and the expansive selection was still setting up; the juggalo-themed art tent wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so. We made a beeline to the Indochine Pavilion.

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The critics, as you can see, were raving. The N.Y. Times called them “Good”! To maximize our food truck festivities and truly appreciate all that NH had to offer, the Girl and I decided we wouldn’t get any actual meals from these trucks. Chicken garlic on a stick are three of my favorite things, so we started there.

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it was, at very least, a three-star affair

From there we proceeded to a local breakfast favorite, the fried manicotti.

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just like mom used to fry. excuse my product placement, Asics is giving me kickbacks

And what New Hampshire foggy moor outing would be complete without the statewide signature favorite, Hot Ballz?

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a bold claim

What are hot ballz, you may ask? A reasonable question. Imagine a hush puppy. Now, instead of spicy dough, fill it with mac and cheese.

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That was about the time I had a heart attack. Bloated with cheese and grease, the Girl and I waddled back out of the moors and, unbelievably, decided our best course of action would be a hike along the Andres Institute of Art outdoor exhibit.

I liked the freaky baby head, but most of the installments looked like the little brass sculptures you find in every flea market. Not to denigrate them; that’s exactly where I found Sir Tetanus the Tintinnabulatory, and he has been a trusted friend and guardian for well over ten years.

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my mans

It started to rain in earnest, and the exhibits were not arranged in an overly user-friendly fashion. If you wanted to see them all, you’d need to take the 14 mile loop. We didn’t want to see them all.

The Girl and I bade a fond(ish) farewell to New Hampshire, and marathon drove home, pausing only to hit a Dunkin Donuts and listen to a hefty local woman scream vitriol at a teenage counter attendant over their lack of donut selection. Imagine her horror if she found outthey’re just called “Dunkin Coffee” in Europe.

And so concludes this leg of the chronicle. Now that I’m financially stable, and so firmly rooted in Philly that I occasionally say “jawn”, it’s time to begin local exploration in earnest.

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.

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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.

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An appreciable warning, considering.

They got sort of a thing for cyclopes.

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

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here either, but i hated it less

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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you and me both, bud

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

Berlin: The Designpanoptikum

December 5, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

In the heart of Berlin, there’s a dungeon scrapyard exhibition overseen by a delightful and charismatic Russian who’s definitely a serial killer. Google assured me that it would be a “surreal museum”, but neglected to mention how similar it would be to that awful J.Lo movie The Cell. The similarities were only emphasized by the fact that I, too, am a thicc bilingual headshrinker, though she is admittedly a better dancer.

Panoptikum is a German word, meaning Panopticon. Helpful, right? Well, the Panopticon was a decidedly Lawful Evil brainchild of social theorist, philosopher, and institutional bastard Jeremy Bentham. Boiled down to its essence, it’s a big round building made of glass, with a spot for a guard in the middle, enclosed by one-way mirrors. The inhabitants of the glass cells have no privacy. They can see each other, but they can’t see the guard, who obviously can’t be watching all of them at once… but you never know where he is looking, behind that smoked glass.

Bentham, sweetheart that he is, suggested the Panopticon could work equally well for a prison or a school. He described it as “a mill for grinding rogues honest”. As reasonable as it might be to want to flying dropkick the dude off a rope bridge, his figuring isn’t wrong. It’s been common knowledge that social expectation and the old “what will people think” instinct is a deep-rooted and effective behavioral modulator, but it’s on such a hair trigger that even the suggestion of being watched can promote a sort of bastardized honesty. A Newcastle study put coffee and tea out for their department with an honesty box next to it with a little note, “Please pay for what you take!”. On the rear wall behind the box was a poster, rotated weekly; either a bunch of flowers, or a pair of eyes. On the eye weeks, the researchers found a lot more honor-system money than on the flower weeks.

Of course, that might not generalize to all people, it might just be that college students are more inclined to feel anxious about being stared at, or eye contact in general. You ever met college students? They love to feel anxious.

When Bentham named the Panopticon, he was making an allusion to Argus Panoptes, a giant from Greek mythology with a hundred eyes. Panoptes translates to “all-seeing”, and that he did, right up until Hera assigned him to guard Io to make sure Zeus didn’t knock her up while she was a cow. Long story. Ultimately ending with Hermes getting recruited by Zeus to sneak up on Panoptes (how that happened is unclear), cast a god-tier Sleep spell, then brain the poor doofus with a rock.

None of those things gave me any inkling of what Berlin’s Panoptikum was gonna be about, but I’m a sucker for anything surreal, probably as compensation for all the ADHD and disdain for sleep.

All alone, with nobody holding my hand through it, I figured out how buses worked. Turns out, they’ll take you in different directions depending on what side of the street you board. The bus numbers will be the same regardless! You just need to know the incredibly German name of an area near wherever you’re going.

Well, I didn’t, so I took the first bus a half mile in the wrong direction, then leaped off and grumbled my way back to the bus stop. It started to rain, because of course it did.

The correct bus eventually dropped me off in central Berlin, a little more than a block from the Panoptikum. I was greeted by an enthusiastic Russian in flawless, German-accented English, who then explained to me that a heavy Russian accent was part of his shtick until 6 pm. He lapsed into it and started giving an overview on the Panoptikum as I marveled at his terrifying sculptures.

25371171_1149915838478054_937305132_o “Form and function,” he said. “Once, they are the same thing. Once, form was secondary consideration. The product of the function. Now everything is so artistically designed and… and… ergonomic, so all of these things must be beautiful as well as functional, but they don’t look like anything. Certainly they don’t look like what they are for. But we have come so far from that, that we no longer recognize things by their functional form. Take this, for example.”

He held up an odd looking metal clamp, sort of like two L-shaped pieces of steel with a long bolt running between them. The steel slid freely, if noisily, along the threads.

“Do you know what this is?”

I shrugged. “Metal?”

“A good guess,” he said, “And technically correct. But this is something specific. This has a function. I ask everyone this question, no one has ever gotten it right. Take time, look around, think about it. I will ask again before you leave, after you see museum.”

I looked at it again. It wasn’t a clamp. There was no way to tighten it. Still looked like giant metal pincers, about a foot and a half long.

“You use it every day,” he assured me. “You have to. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”

Then he set me loose in the grown up version of Sid’s room from Toy Story.

The basement had that cloying, stale grease smell of a disused garage.

“Do not go to the museums,” he warned me. “Not if you want to see art. You want art, go to the junkyard. Art everywhere. Costs much less.”

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“Form and function. Do you know what this is?”

I looked it over as he crouched down and slapped the thing. A low-pitched BONG sound echoed through the eerie silence of his subterranean trophy case.

“Well, I was gonna say a land mine, but I guess not.”

“Close!” he said, opening the hatch. “Washing machine. Back when they were first invented, only rich people had them. You put the clothes in, the motor shakes them up, cleans them. No motor now, of course, so now it’s just… this thing.”

He was insistent I take selfies with his zany assortment of hats from the dump. I didn’t want to wear the deflated punching bag on my head, although he was really pulling for it. 25383075_1149915881811383_2081062368_o

We compromised on the World War I helmet. I’ve since learned it’s called a Stahlhelm.

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“Do you know why the helmets had those little horns?”

I did not.

“It is not like a viking thing, and it is not like they came to terms with being the bad guys, dressing up like devils. It is an example of… German overengineering. Germans are a very efficient people, and sometimes they get too focused on it, and they lose sight of what’s practical.”

“I know,” I said. “I used to have a Jetta.”

“See, the steel helmets were good for protecting against shrapnel, but back in the trenches, you would just poke your head up and shoot. The metal was not thick enough to stop a direct hit from a bullet. But the scientists at the time, they thought, what if we installed a plate that was thick enough to stop a bullet? Their trench fighters would be almost impervious to gunfire, then! So they manufactured these heavy steel plates that click into the little buttons on the side of the helmet, protecting the head. This did not work for three reasons.

One, it was very, very expensive. That’s a lot of steel, and you need to give one to everyone in the army. Germany ran out of steel.

Two, it was too heavy. People running around with 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) of steel on their head, it interfered with their balance. The helmets would also slip down over their eyes because it’s so much heavier in the front.

Three, in the instances when the plate did actually stop a direct hit of a bullet? The force of the impact would break the soldier’s neck in 80% of cases anyway. So for all that money, and all that effort, and all that steel, they’re only saving one out of five direct hits, which are rare enough to begin with.”

It hearkened back to something he’d said earlier when we were looking at an old iron lung.

“See, in America, life is precious. In Russia, Asia, the Middle East, life is cheap. I get Chinese tourists in here, I tell them this woman lived sixty years in this iron lung, and they are incredulous, they ask me ‘why not just die’? Well, because she was an American. They had the resources, so she lived in that iron lung, she did university from her hospital room, and she eventually became a depression counselor. Helped a lot of people. But not everyone could have done that, I don’t think. Most people would rather just die.”

I was reflecting on all this when I turned the corner, caught sight of this little number.

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“Don’t worry, it’s not a sex doll,” he assured me.

“That’s not what worried me.”

“That is part of typewriter,” he said. “Sort of a duality thing, you know? Because of the mouth, and the typewriter, and both of them use words, both of them are for words.”

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“That’s Yuri Gagarin,” he said. “You know who that is?”

I laughed. What a Russian thing! “Yeah,” I said.

“First man in space,” he told me, even though I just said yeah.

“So is that how they did it? Dr. Strangelove style?”

He grinned. “More or less.”

We made our way back to the front door and he picked up the weird metal clamp thing again.

“So! Any guesses?”

I squinted at it, then nodded.

“Is it a doorknob?”

“It is!” he said. “It is a doorknob! And hopefully, your time here at the Panoptikum opened some doors to some new ways of looking at things for you. Thank you much for coming.”

“Thank you,” I said. “This was incredible.”

“You got it right, here,” he said, “Take one of postcards, for free. Whichever one you want. Go ahead.”

I decided on the one that he had explained in the gallery as representing the German spirit.

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Refreshed and disturbed, I walked back out into Berlin’s perpetual rain to find the lauded East Side Gallery.

Next time.

(If you liked the crazy bullshit you saw here, there’s plenty more where that came from. If that site is too hard to navigate [and it fuckin’ is], there’s also a Facebook page. It’s in German, so if you like it, everyone will think you’re cultured.)

Above board, the guy who owns it and gave me the tour is an artist and photographer named Vladimir Korneev. I’d love to link to his gallery or something, but he shares a name with a Russian songwriter so there’s way too much foreign-language smokescreen for me to find anything.

I strongly encourage you to hit up this headtrip if you’re ever in Berlin. He’s probably not a serial killer. He didn’t serial kill me! But they never really seem to.

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

Berlin: Ich Bin Ein

December 4, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The first thing I learned was my normal strategy of walking everywhere is of no use here. Berlin is too big. It’s because there used to be too many Berlins, and once Reagan hulk-punched that wall down it became a single, titanic Berlin.

Hostels were in short supply, but I managed to get my hands on a nice $13 a night dealie right off of the Landwehr canal, called the Grand Hostel Berlin. Their delusions of grandeur didn’t stop at the name. They were under the mistaken impression they were a party hostel, and wanted this party to center around what they called the Gin Library.

Now, ordinarily, those would be great things better together, right? Peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and chocolate. Peanut butter and whatever arbitrary nutritional asceticism I’m inflicting on myself at present.

No such luck, beautiful reader. It was most assuredly a library a la Ron Burgundy, leatherbound books and rich mahogany, but it also had bar no one ever wanted to tend, obnoxious techno music that kind of disrupted the whole “library” mystique, and a fucking disco ball.

Do you know why most libraries don’t have disco balls? It’s because you need light to read.

When I entered the Gin Library, there were four people sitting around a coffee table, talking over the bad music in various accents about what their favorite types of alcohol are. Pretty standard cultured frat-boy hostel fare. The girls were middling attractive, the boys were “traveler chic” with whiteboy dreadlocks and dated facial piercings.

Laboring under the mistaken impression I could get some reading done in the library, I stood at the bar and tried to order a beer during happy hour. It didn’t work for a few minutes. I went to reception and said, “Hey, think I could get a beer?” The receptionist smiled, nodded, and shouted rapid German at no one in particular.

I went back to the bar and waited for another couple minutes, then decided the hell with it, I didn’t need one that bad, and started back to the corner seat to chip away at a reread of Stephen King’s It.

It wasn’t until then that one of the girls at the table, still squawking something about how Oh she LUVES tequila, deigned to stand up, approach the bar, and say, “Did you want a beer?”

“You work here?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure?”

She smiled, thinking I was flirting. I corrected this misconception by deliberately stiffing a service worker on a tip for the first time in my life.

Sorry baby. West Berlin’s always been a capitalism.

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I started at the Brandenburg gate, one of Germany’s most famous monuments despite its relative youth, at least by European standards. Berlin had been a defensible fort with a sequence of unpronounceable names since Germany was Prussia, but the Brandenburg gate didn’t show up until around 1790. For America, that’s all of relevant history, but for countries like Italy or England, that’s basically yesterday.

I hadn’t done a lot of Nazi-centric sightseeing because the weather is depressing enough and I like to have fun, but considering the Germanic bent my recent journeys have taken, it’s not avoidable. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe is about a block from the Brandenburg gate, rising from a concrete lot like a time-lapse cemetery. Catchy name too, huh? It’s got a beat and you can dance to it.

Concrete slabs of varying heights shoot haphazardly from the ground with no inscription, pattern, or real rhyme or reason. Some look like tombstones, some like coffins, some like tiny Brutalist skyscrapers. The architect, a dude named Eisenman, claims that the blocks are supposed to create a confusing atmosphere indicative of a highly ordered system gone wrong, then in the same breath says that the memorial has no symbolic significance. Sounds like your confusing atmosphere worked better than planned.

The designer’s contradictory Zen-koan babbling doesn’t stop visitors from their interpretations, though. Popular opinion is that entering the monument proper was isolating. The concrete absorbed the sounds of traffic and life coming from Berlin, leaving you in this cold, spooky hallway. The alienation, the echoes, and the imposing bleakness of the corridors reminded me of a slaughterhouse, but I’m not the best central tendency metric for this kind of thing.

Some people call that vague feeling of visceral unease the heebie-jeebies, or something comparably cute. I call it draggin’ ghosts, and I felt them like a physical weight on my shoulders as I walked out of that bleak little grid. At the same time, I was reining in an almost irresistible urge to jump from block to block. That was something I liked to do in graveyards when I was young, until someone saw me. Never met anyone who was thrilled about that.

I turned the corner and a giant brain-blimp shone down from a wall.

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“Oh, good,” I said aloud. Berlin’s got a reputation for art, and a lot of what I saw was pretty cool, but we’ll save that for its own post.

I turned another corner.

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agreed

I doubled back to the hostel and sat down for a while since I’d somehow managed to walk four or five miles, thanks to Berlin’s comical immensity. Der Hunger was setting in. I asked a spindly blonde receptionist where I could get some food, and she helpfully said she’d tell me in ten minutes.

She didn’t get the chance. A dude who sounded Ukrainian was scribbling a sort of city-overview to the stoner kid I mentioned yesterday and a middle-aged Japanese couple, and I eavesdropped on that until he circled the areas where “all the best restaurants are”. I leaned in, snapped a picture, and disappeared into Germany’s perpetual freezing rain.

What he meant by “all the best restaurants” was “places you could conceivably locate food”. This walk was only a mile, though, so that was… better? The street was called Bergmannstraße, it was itself about a mile long, and it had nothing but Asian food, one italian restaurant, one Mexican restaurant, and a kebab shop. I didn’t come to Germany for any of those things, but my choices rapidly became branch out or starve. I ate Indian two days in a row, from two different restaurants right next to each other. The first, called India, was bad. The second was incredible. I don’t remember the name.

There were a smattering of tourist shops along Bergmann, and one of them stopped me dead.

Now, my German is not what you would call spectacular. Any doubt about that, ask any of the Austrians or Germans I’ve befriended in my travels; they invariably mock my awful accent and I demand they answer for “feuerzeug“.

I delight in the German language because of the kindergarten way they just staple short, existing words into monstrous yet inexplicably precise Frankenwords.

You’re sick? Du bist krank. Welp, if you’re sick enough, we gotta get you to the hospital. That’s the krankhaus. How we gonna get you there? We’re gonna load you into the krankenwagen.

Absolute poetry.

In my Duolingings, I ran across the suffix –zeug, which essentially just means “stuff”. Your toy? That’s spieltzeug, literally play-stuff. How about a tool? Werkzeug. You can noodle that one out.

Then you got Fahrenzeug which means “driving stuff” and refers to a car. Uh, okay, I guess. But Feuerzeug is exactly what it sounds like, fire-stuff, and it means “a lighter”, and that makes me absolutely furious. You go TOO FAR.

German grammar is a disaster rivaled only by English grammar and their idioms are, as one would expect, deeply nonsensical and often sausage-themed. Every German I’ve encountered has argued they don’t have that many sausage-themed idioms, forcing me to point it out to them when they invariably use one within the following two hours.

These magnets, for those of you who didn’t quite catch up with the bus somehow, are word-for-word English translations of German turns of phrase. I reveled in them, grinning like an idiot in the rain for five minutes, then made the first and last legitimate souvenir purchase of my trip.

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I also encountered this gem.

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Trump halts maul. Well, it didn’t sound complimentary, but it did sound like home. The last I’d heard of the German opinion on Donnie was when the Morgenpost referred to him as… well, as thus:

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“please not the Horror-Clown!”

Well, I had to wait until I got back to the rad library party hostel to solve this particular mystery, but I giggled when I did.

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It reminded me of one’a my favorite twitter threads.

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Although, in fairness, the t-shirt’s not wrong.

That’s all I can do for today, if I type for too long WordPress’s busted-ass text editor starts flinching away from me every time I hit the enter key like a beaten puppy. Talk to you tomorrow, boys and girls.

Love,

The Bastard