Vienna: Phallic Fixations

November 25, 2017. Vienna, Austria.

There’s really no missing the Pestsäule. The 60-foot baroque monstrosity juts up out of the center of the Graben like an ornate middle finger to God. It’s actually emperor Leopold I delivering on his side of one of those pleading prayer bargains we’ve all done. Leo’s was “Please, let the plague stop. I swear I’ll build you a really dope art phallus right in the middle of the city, just stop killing everyone.”

The Plague Column is also called the Trinity Column due to its three sides, each one presumably representing some aspect of the tripartite God.

About a block away is the Stock im Eisen, or staff in iron. That’s misleading, it’s not a staff, it’s a tree trunk full of nails, kept in a tube that makes it totally immune to photography.

I did what I could. Now, you might be asking, “Why is there a protected chunk of tree, full of nails, on a street corner in Vienna?” Good question. I’d love to answer it, but it doesn’t seem like anyone can. Every website has a different interpretation of the Stock im Eisen‘s history, and the locals who were attempting to explain its significance to their visiting friends were telling conflicting stories.

Here’s what I’ve pieced together. In the Middle Ages, nail trees (Nagelbäume) were used by craftsmen, or anyone else with nails, for good luck. This particular nail tree had something to do with the Devil. There’s a ballet about it by Pasquale Borri, so if anyone more sophisticated than me can check that out and report back, I’d appreciate it.

There was a locksmith who wanted to marry his master’s daughter, or maybe he just wanted to be the greatest locksmith who ever lived. Dude shot for the stars. So he calls Mephistopheles out of Prague, who shows up on a FlixBus a few hours later. The locksmith sells his soul in exchange for just a really, fuckin’, top-notch padlock. It’s amazing. He puts that on the tree and issues challenges to either his master in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage, or to all the locksmiths of the world in exchange for World Locksmithing Supremacy. Since the Devil made the lock, nobody could crack it, and he lived happily ever after until he burnt in Hell. The tree remains with a lock on it to this day, and also full of nails, for some reason.

This is confirmed bullshit. They looked into the padlock and it’s empty, there’s no tumblers or anything in there. It would pop right open. Maybe that’s why the whole thing’s behind the bulletproof glass.

Well, that was most of center city, barring museums and palaces. I sidled all the way across town to the Freud Museum.

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they only serve sausages

I thought it was interesting, but Freud was what got me through college. I’d read the bulk of his debunked wackadoo theories long before I got “higher educated”, and since every class in undergrad wanted to beat both Freudian and Pavlovian dead horses as much as possible, I got to recycle the same paper, with subtle stylistic changes, something like ten times.

My favorite, bar none, was a History and Systems project where we were required to adopt the persona of our chosen theorist and have an open debate with the rest of the class. We got extra credit for accents, props, and convincing portrayal. I shaved my scruff into an approximation of his beard and showed up to class with a grape White Owl in my mouth and a baggie full of flour smeared around my nose. The only Austrian accent I’d ever heard at that point was the Terminator’s, so that was how Freud talked. I sat next to B.F. Skinner, as portrayed by a gorgeous little ghoul with dichromatic eyes, and we became a vitriolic tempest of condescending reductionism, laying waste to anyone fool enough to have chosen a humanistic or positive psychologist. The Carl Rogers surrogate got the worst flaying. I think he might still be institutionalized.

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speaking of my college

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hoo i heard that

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Siggy’s personal necromancy cabinet. easily puts mine to shame, but the museum did keep repeating that his three great passions were “traveling, smoking, and collecting”

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I laughed so hard and so inappropriately at that adorable picture of Carl Jung. Look at him go! With his little hat, and his little disapproving frown!

I love Jung, I think his work is interesting, if convoluted, arcanist rambling, but I wasn’t prepared for this. From here on out, I’m never gonna be able to think of Freud and Jung as anything but Germanic Rick and Morty.

On my way back to the hostel, I located the only grocery store in Vienna (I’d been looking) and picked up a box of juice brand named “Munter und Aktiv”. Well, I got half of that. I asked Google Translate and it said Munter means “blithely”. I recognized this as impossible. I activated my German field agent and she told me it’s a mixture between happy and awake and active. Well, we already have active. I asked the lady at the hostel desk, planning on averaging all these translations into one definitive Munter.

“It is like waking up with coffee in the morning,” she said. “Like chipper.”

“All right, thank you.”

She asked me if I still had my key card. I said I did.

“Good work,” she told me. She seemed serious, but she may have just been possessed of the Wiener Grant.

“Do people lose them a lot? Is that a big problem here?” I asked, blithely. Munterly.

“No, no problem. We don’t have problems here,” she said, then she honest to God slapped the table and shouted in the thickest, most Germanic accent I’ve ever heard, “VE HAVE ZOLUTIONS!”

She laughed after and clarified that she was just kidding, but I was deer-in-the-headlights frozen. One of those disbelieving grins, you know? When what’s going on… can’t be what’s actually going on.

I know we have a sad little Nazi party movement in America, but realistically that’s like 40 lonely dudes with bad haircuts who get way too much media coverage. In much of Europe, they seem mighty sorry for World War II. The Mahnmal in the heart of Vienna is a good indicator, but there’s more going on than monuments, culturally. The aforementioned German girl is currently crossing eastern Europe and self-inflicting a sort of guilt tour (or Schuldtour). Warsaw and Auschwitz, that I’m aware of. Die Madchen ist haunted.

(As a quick aside, I looked up the German word for ‘haunted’, and, unbelievably, it is spukt. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Spukt. This fuckin’ language, man.)

In the Athens flea market, after divulging her nationality to an antique dealer for reasons I will never understand, he rolled out a bunch of old Nazi medals.

“You want?”

She literally backpedaled, shielding her face like a tall, rigid vampire from an iron cross. But she went on to tell me that there are people back in Germany — in America, we’d call them hicks — that love that kind of thing.

The modern nationalism necessary to breed either sentiment is lost on me, but I don’t think that’s because I’m an American. I’m just not much of a joiner.

A final, weird note, and the last Hitler point I plan on making: the Indian guy told me that Hitler is sort of fondly remembered in India and China. In the course of the war, Germany did a lot of damage to Great Britain, and India is still carrying a pretty understandable grudge against their former imperial taskmasters.

I sat down and collected myself until my chronic and intractable antsiness returned, then I figured I’d go check out the craft beer bar half a mile away. I hadn’t eaten in six or seven hours, so that seemed like the ideal time. They had a Bier dem Wochen flight for the cost of a regular half-pint, so I got that. They brought me 4 beers, all from Anchor Brewing, which I learned from a hipster’s t-shirt is in San Francisco.

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welp

The Steam beer must be called that because that’s what it tasted like. The stout was palatable, in a cream soda kind of way. I downed it and ordered a local imperial stout called Der Schnittenfahrt from a company called Brauwork. Hilarious though that may sound, it means “cut drive”, and washing down a flight with it on an empty stomach was perhaps ill advised.

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“schnittenfahrt” tho

The bar was very excited about rugby. Ireland vs Argentina. I didn’t know who they were rooting for, but they were rooting for them with all their heart. I went to the bathroom and laughed so hard I scared a dude.

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now that’s opulence

That was enough for one night. I had a bus to catch the next morning. I stumbled back to my hostel and passed out. I slept like a rock, except for at around 3 AM when I was awake just long enough to see the dude in the opposing bunk sit up like a mummy, slam his face into the wood support of the bunk over him, and release a long, low-pitched, closed-mouthed moan. It was sort of like a cow mooing, but in slow motion. Absolutely fantastic.

The next morning I threw all my stuff into my bag and wrote in the kitchen until my Brazilian DJ friend rejoined me, looking much worse for wear.

“Bunch of bastards,” he told me out of nowhere.

“Huh?”

“The club I played at,” he spat. “Didn’t pay me a DIME. Bastards. Didn’t even give me free drinks. I had four beers, and they charged me.”

I shook my head. “Animals. Well, chalk it up to experience, I guess.”

He made a vague allusion to being all about peace and love. I shook his hand, wished him well, and headed for the door.

Oh, right. The bus was to Bratislava, and hoo boy, do I got some stories for tomorrow.

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heard yo mama in the movies

Love,

The Bastard

Vienna: Empires, Ashes, and the Mysterious Wiener Grant

November 25, 2017. Vienna, Austria.

The Chinese food had only mildly poisoned me. It’s unbelievable that I needed to experience it to give this advice, but listen: Don’t eat the Chinese food in Austria. I was down, but not out, and I decided that only a coward would let some mild food-poisoning interrupt a travel, especially a Bastard one. I hit the gloomy, perpetually moist streets of Vienna.

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when did herbie come thru

 

India from the Metro had been backpacking on the fly. He tailed me to the hostel and booked a room there, then asked if I wanted to head into town together. I was leery. I travel alone. There are more opportunities that way, I don’t have to be double-checking if my co-pilot wants to do this thing, or if they’re comfortable hopping a fence, or if they’re too soft-spoken and respectable to blithely ask the locals dumb questions in lazy American English. But, he came along for part of the morning, and he was utterly transfixed by the palaces.

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Europe is filthy with palaces. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one, and each is ostentatious in its own way. The Austrian baroque style is big into imposing white rock, ostentatious statuary, and just enough gold that you have to do a double-take and say, “shit, is that gold?”

For my own part, I’d had my fill of palaces. I’d been too long away, I was tuning into the old gutter frequency again. I wanted to get lost somewhere seedy and low-profile. Instead, we peeped a couple unpronounceable palaces.

 

He found another palace that I didn’t think warranted photography. It had been repurposed into the brick-and-mortar arm of a QVC jewelry magazine. It was plenty opulent, if you’re into that sort of thing. All my belongings are made of wood, leather, and stone, so…

 

We were trying to get into the city center by way of Albertinaplatz. It was a snarl of foot traffic and odd monument sculptures.

For those of you whose German is even worse than mine, Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus means “monument against war and fascism”. This chunk of the city is a way of apologizing for Hitler without having to mention Hitler. More on him later.

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this hideous bronze dog is an absolute steal at $3000

I found the Hungarian house, where Countess Elizabeth Báthory harvested her victims in . The story runs deeper than the factoids we got in grade school. Lizzie split her time between her husband’s Hungarian house and Cachtice castle. Eventually she had to flee to the latter full-time after arousing too much suspicion. Everyone knows she bathed in and drank the blood of these virgin girls, but that was the endgame.

She’d send her servant Ficzkó into the market to collect likely peasant maids for employment at the Hungarian house and the castle. Being as they were hired servants, it wasn’t that unusual that she flogged so many of them and left them naked in the snow. It started getting a little more unusual when the servants were walking around with fingers torn off and flesh bitten from their faces. You could hear the screaming echo through the Hungarian quarter at night, but nobody dared question the countess. Government, am I right? The estimated head count was 600 virgins, but there’s obviously no documentation.

From History Today:

“She believed that drinking the blood of young girls would preserve her youthfulness and her looks. Witnesses told of her stabbing victims or biting their breasts, hands, faces and arms, cutting them with scissors, sticking needles into their lips or burning them with red-hot irons, coins or keys. Some were beaten to death and some were starved.”

A Lutheran minister told Hungarian authorities, and by December of 1610 the countess was “arrested”. She wasn’t tried, of course, because she was a countess, but she was locked in a single room of her castle until she died four years later. She dropped off real quick after she stopped getting her blood baths. Maybe she was onto something.

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Unbelievably, they’re still using it as apartments. For Hungarians, I assume. It’s a closed house, no tours or anything, so the best I could do was take a picture of the unassuming door and soak up as much of the aura of 400-year-old evil as I could. It’s a pretty busy street, though. Not terribly conducive to reflection on Renaissance atrocities. Probably why she chose it.

Then I stumbled upon the Kaisergruft, the Austrian Imperial crypt. My travelling companion dipped out at this point. We had both expressed how tired we were of museums, but our definitions of “museum” appeared to differ.

I’ll say this about the Austrians: they knew how to die.

 

 

 

 

 

Even at Sedlec, you didn’t see death glorified like this. Death was incidental there, a sort of means to an end dedicated specifically to the art and then, as an afterthought, Jesus. These crypts were a full embrace of death, a momentous momento mori emblazoned with crowned skulls and gargoyle heads and every kind of Imperial seal, crest, or design you could imagine. I couldn’t help but be awed. All this time, money, and labor, for a suitcase full of bones.

Brings to mind a Marcus Aurelius quote.
“Death smiles at us all; all we can do is smile back.”

Well, Imperial Austria was, and continues to be, grinning like Schwarzenegger.

I made my way out of the crypt and, after the only affordable breakfast I could find in Vienna, I crossed the street and discovered this burrito place.

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Wiener Grant! What the fuck could that mean? Is it that guy? Why is he so mad? Why is his tattoo so incredible? I needed to know more.

I barged into the burrito store without a moment’s hesitation and asked the poor, unsuspecting counter girl.

“Who, or what, is Wiener Grant?”

She looked at her hipster coworker then said, “Was?”

I wasn’t fooled. She spoke English. 75% of the Austrian population speaks English, and it’s a damn certainty that a Viennese girl in her twenties will.

“Outside, on the sign. Over that painting of the dude in his shorty-shorts, it says ‘A burrito a day keeps Wiener Grant away’.” What is Wiener Grant? Is there any other way to avoid him?”

“It is… hard to explain,” she said. Well, yeah, I knew that already.

“It is like…” the hipster said, gesturing. “Vienna is… grumpy?”

“Viennese are cranky people,” the girl said, making a demonstrative face. “Wiener Grant is when you feel blahhhh. Cranky, because you are Viennese.”

“So it’s not a guy.”

“No.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Thank you.”

There’s more to this chronicle, but I have to catch a bus soon. I’ll have another post later today.

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

 

Athens: Ruined Temples and Nights

November 10, 2017. Athens, Greece.

I headed out to the google-recommended Syntagma square to see what it was. Turns out, it’s a little quasipark in front of a municipal building, which is not the Platonian ideal of “sightseeing”, but there was a decently sized hunger strike going on.

23432909_1129653010504337_681428417_oA local told me that the strikers are Syrian refugees who have become disconnected from their families traveling across Europe, since there are so few countries willing to accept refugees. They want the Greek government to… find them, somehow. Talk to the other European nations, track down, and reunite the refugee families.

Obviously, the Greek government said “That doesn’t even approach being our responsibility dude and also, how?” so they’ve been hunger striking for a week and a half in central Athens.

After telling me this, ironically, she recommended me some excellent local restaurants.

I hustled off to the remaining ruins in central Athens, Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus:

Nice ruins, if you’re into that sort of thing. I also went to the Acropolis museum, which did not permit pictures. I took one anyway but my phone deleted it. Welp.

(imagine a picture of a sculpture from the Acropolis’ relief of the Gigantomachy, where Athena squadded up with a bunch of Nikes and made an afternoon of whooping rebellious giant ass. the picture was of a giant trying to climb back to his feet, li’l giant ding-a-ling fully visible. caption: “dont look so giant to me”)

Angling on down to the recommended restaurant (which was written entirely in deep Greek and I didn’t have a shot in hell of comprehending, let alone pronouncing), I stumbled onto this gem:

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With the lamp and everything! I don’t know about you, but when I think fine dining, my mind goes right to the dude who liked to whack off in the marketplace.

louie

no the other one

I’ve been eating well in Greece, better than in Italy, far better in Madrid, but nothing could’ve prepared me for this.

23546965_1130777737058531_2144672600_o I didn’t even know there WERE that many meats, let alone that you could put them all on sticks. It was incredible. That pile of tomatoes is alleged to be a “Greek salad”, which I suppose I can be on board with. Lettuce is a waste of time. What I could not comprehend was how the tzatziki was spicy.

Despite my racial handicap, I like spicy food a lot, but tzatziki is just cucumbers and yogurt. What did you do? How did you do it? Tell me.

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sorry fam but these meat sticks are fuckin incredible

I toured, I excursed, I fed, and it was almost happy hour at the hostel. I called it a day and headed back to prepare for the night.

On the roof I struck up a conversation with an Aussie lady who was a little older than me and much more sophisticated than the lads I’d met the previous night. She was in town for a pool tournament that I’m pretty sure she won. She had heard of shoeys, but found them disgusting. Right there with ya, mate. Hoodies are jumpas and emo was never big in Australia.

The cast and crew from the previous night puttered out onto the roof, along with the four Australian kids.

“If it isn’t the ghost squad!” I shamed them.

“Right, sorry mate,” they said unconvincingly, “We were ganna go for a walkabout but we just passed roight out.”

C’est la vie. Nine of us around the table passed happy hour comparing cultures and travel stories, then made plans to reconvene on the roof terrace at 10.

“All roight lads,” one of the australian kids said, “Let’s go to the store, get some pay-sta for dinna. We’ll meet you back up here at 10.”

“I’ll hold my breath,” I promised, perhaps a lil peevishly.

The Australian girl did not care for them. The word drongo may have been used. Also, bogan. They’re deeply contextual terms, but they didn’t seem affectionate.

She was fun, but we lost her before our vaguely defined plans to “find a club”. It was four of us now: me, the Austrian artist, a dude from Wisconsin, and a Canadian bro hellbent on crushing beers wherever they may hide.

The bouncer at the club was the first man I’d met in Europe who frightened me. He was discernibly Russian, had killed people recently, and there was no way his name wasn’t Ivan. He was an older guy with a neck like a bull, a shaved head, and bulging, rolling, crazy eyes.

“All right, I have 2 free tickets to get in,” said Wisconsin. “It’s 10 euros admission, so if we all pool up, it’s only 5 each.”

“Drinks are gonna be crazy expensive in there,” Austria said. “They always are in these dance clubs.”

“Yeah, but look at these girls!” Canada said. I did. They looked like almost all the girls I’d seen in Athens, which is to say, slight, dressed in black, purple lipstick, smoking cigarettes. I realized I was the only person wearing grey.

Wisconsin approached Ivan, told him about his free tickets. Ivan considered tearing his head from his shoulders and hurling it to Crete, then said, “Needink girls.”

“What?”

“Men pay unless come with girls,” he said, with finality.

My hustle sense started going crazy.

“All right,” said Canada, “Let’s go across the street, crush some beers, then find some girls to help us get in.”

I surveyed the crowd in line again. It would be possible, for like… two of us. Four rogue foreign dudes trying to skive their way into a trendy club for free, not even speaking the language? I didn’t love our odds.

While beers were crushed, I ordered a currywurst at a skeevy hot dog vendor. They gave me a hot dog sliced into disks with curry ketchup and limp french fries. Any port in a storm. I ate them with fond remembrance of the giant meat-stick platter I had put down six or seven hours before.

The boys asked the girls in the traditional American way: direct, civil, transactional. We looked like beggars. I cranked up the charming smile to 75% wattage and made a cluster of Grecian goth girls giggle, recounting how the terrifying man at the door gave us a provisional No Boys Allowed.

“We are waiting for someones, but they may not come,” they said. “If they do not come we will go with you.”

Well, there were two of them. Mathematically, that could’ve panned out, but it was obvious Ivan had no interest in acknowledging Wisconsin’s free tickets, or anything else beyond arterial spray.

“There are other clubs,” I said. “A block down the street. Let’s try that.”

We approached one that, to the undiscerning eye, looked like a ritzy Japanese restaurant. In the line, there were robots.

I suggested maybe one of the girls could get Daft Punk into the club. Meanwhile, Canada was hard at work ingratiating himself to one of the bartenders who was on his smoke break. He made us an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime offer: If we buy a 150 Euro bottle of liquor, we can get in for free.

“You figure, you’d be going in, and then buying like, what, five beers anyway…” Canada rationalized. It was getting too distasteful for me.

“Gentlemen, listen,” I said. “I think we should just go to a bar.”

“But the girls!”

“There are girls literally everywhere,” I said with an expansive hand gesture. “They’re more than half the population. There are beautiful women in bars, in parks, in the grocery store. This feels like a scam.”

The robot danced and flashed behind me, as if emphasizing my point.

The bartender returned like a particularly skilled fisherman that sensed his catch was about to slip the hook.

“Just tell them my name,” he said. “They will let you through, say I sent you.”

We thanked him and approached the bouncer, said the magic word.

“Who?” the bouncer said. I laughed, but nobody else thought it was funny.

“The bartender. He was just out here on break, he told us you’d let us in.”

The bouncer considered, then waved us through to the roped off front desk, whereupon a beautiful Asian girl leaned over the counter and said, “10 Euros each, please.”

“I’m out, fellas,” I said. “Hate to poop the party, but I was really only looking for one drink anyway. I’ll see y’all back at the hostel.”

I crossed the street to talk to a girl we had spoken to previously in front of the cigarette kiosk, who had originally suggested “Just go find girls! There are girls in every line and there are many clubs.”

“Hey, real quick,” I asked. “You’re working out here every night, right? You know these clubs?”

“Yes.”

“Are we trying to find girls for the opportunity to pay 10 Euros? Like, you find a girl, then you pay 10 Euros anyway?”

“No,” she said, looking puzzled. “You go in free with girls. 10 Euros for boys. But I don’t know this club well, it is new.”

“That’s what I figured. Good night.”

I headed back to the hostel and slept like a rock until the middle aged Asian man in the corner bunk had to scream into his cell phone at 6 AM in the bathroom.

The whole gendered dance club scene strikes me as desperate. If you’re the kind of dude who’s about to pay $30-$50 for the opportunity to look at, not talk to, and maybe hook up with women, cut out the middleman and go to central Madrid.

Welp, that’s enough for one morning. Time to go exploring. Find some souvlaki to wash the bad taste out of my mouth.

Love,

The Bastard