Middlebury, Vermont: Good Night Sweet Prince

Friday, April 16, 2021. Middlebury, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Here Come the Mummies – Ra Ra Ra

We touched down on an active farm deep in the heart of Clarendon, where we would be staying for the weekend while she conducted whatever dark and uncatholic dealings she had lined up. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, so no one could hear screaming, should there have been any screaming. I wasn’t afraid. Remember in the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where the actor who played Kenan’s dad just boots Leatherface square in the gut, side-kick style? I knew karate once. I’d go high, Beefy’d go low, the witch could nuke from the backline.

Assuming Leatherface was the concern, of course, and I didn’t get turned into a donkey and ridden all over the countryside like in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That series gave me a powerful childhood fear of agriculture. I maintain the fear, but now it’s because of comparative studies of hunter gatherer societies, and knowledge of what grain does to the human body.

The farm itself was populated by aloof female farm dogs, and a single male Australian Shepherd named Cody with a mutation that caused his right pupil to split, like the eye of a goat. He would not stop humping my attorney.

Beefton is a gentleman of culture and refinement. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and he doesn’t want to kill the vibe, so he never fights other dogs unless it’s clear that they’re just wrasslin’. He kept running away. Cody was single-minded, obsessive, and not actually too into it, since he was whining on the approach every time. I figured he was trying to assert his dominance over the larger, younger male dog invading his territory, but halfheartedly. Beefton had no idea what was going on and just kept fleeing.

“You’re gonna have to flip him,” I told him. “You’ve got to set boundaries.”

Beefton gazed at me with his doofy Baby Yoda face, awaiting intervention as Cody set up to sort of hump at his left hip. I imagined Cody didn’t get off the farm much.

“It’s a microcosm of life,” I said. “You’ve got to stand up for yourself. They’ll try to fuck you if you let them. Or… do whatever that is.”

“Cody!” yelled the farmers. “Get off him!”

Cody would not be dissuaded. Beefton looked at my beseechingly. I shrugged.

“You outweigh him by like 30 pounds. Put him on his ass and this will never happen again.”

“I am a man of peace,” Beefton told me. “We’re better than this.”

“Just throw one of the left hooks you use to flip the scrappy little German Shepherd madchens at the dog park.”

“But that’s for funsies and this feels like it’s for serious,” he said, apprehensively. Beefy took a few steps away from Cody, glancing back over his own rippling, overdeveloped deltoids. Undeterred, Cody wandered over to get back to what he perceived as his task.

“It might be funsies, but they respect your torque! An armed society is a polite society, lil mans.”

“Cody!” the farmers were still yelling. “What the hell’s the matter with you? Leave him alone!”

Beefton nodded, considering my words. He turned toward Cody, who was crookedly humping the air in the vicinity of Beefton’s side. They made eye contact. Beefy growled a little, then let loose one of his bassy sonic boom barks that have proven so effective at scaring teens off my front stoop back in Philly.

Cody dismounted and drifted away.

For the time being.

We loaded back up into the wagon and made our way across the state so the witch could scout locations for a thaumaturgist’s hut. Beefton and I secured the perimeter, burning the pent up anxiety from his protracted assault by lunging at squirrels and peeing on everything. He did most of the lunging and peeing.

And once in Middlebury, we stopped in to pay our respects to the late Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef.

You’re gonna love this one.

In the late 1800s, deep in the social oasis of Middlebury (relative to the utter backwoods desolation that is the rest of Vermont), there lived a collector of expensive, weird things by the name of Henry Sheldon.

He looks around his curio collection and decides, “You know what this could really use? A mummy.” So he puts in an order for a mummified Egyptian prince, a two-year-old called Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef. This was before Craigslist, so there were really no pictures of the mummy available. Caveat emptor and all that.

The mummy arrives, and Sheldon is inconsolable. It was apparently “in such a degraded condition that Sheldon never put it out on display”.

“This mummy sucks!” Sheldon probably said, jabbing a finger at the withered corpse of Egyptian royalty dating back to 2000 BC. “This mummy is bullshit!”

Disgraced and ashamed, Sheldon stashed the little body up in his attic, where it remained until decades after Sheldon himself died.

Lil Amum is then happened upon by the curator of the Henry Sheldon museum, a good-hearted fella called George Mead. Mead recognizes that this isn’t what this two-year-old Egyptian prince would have wanted, to be so far from home, from the land of his forefathers, boxed up in some Vermontian attic because he’s too ugly to be displayed, like a leisure suit or home movies on VHS.

Mead sets things right by having the mummy cremated and buried in a Judeo-Christian cemetery across the street from the Middlebury Art College.

I like to think Amum was just booling out in the Egyptian afterlife with all his slaves and gold, all the things that mummification was required to insure, and then abruptly vaporizes a la “I don’t feel so good Mr. Stark” and reappears in the middle of Sunday mass in Heaven, seated in the pew and looking up at the actual, actively writhing body of Jesus, since you’ve got to assume in Heaven they don’t need to do carved representations.

Probably frigged up his whole day.

“Rest in power, little king,” I said to Amum.

At that moment, probably coincidentally, the sky opened up and it started pouring. We ran back to the car where Beefy was waiting to make sure the campus police didn’t ticket us.

Love,

BT

Into the Abyss

August 10, 2018. Manchester, New Hampshire.

After seven hours on the road, pausing only to explore an Old Ones cult site, storm a terrible castle, and eat distressingly dry corned beef at a Greek diner that still advertised one of their menu items as “Michael Jackson’s favorite grinder”, we were in dire need of respite.

Establishing a forward operating base was our first priority. For my part, I can sleep anywhere. My bonfire days in the Frozen North frequently necessitated pitching a $10 K-Mart tent over gravel, then drinking bottom-shelf whiskey until you didn’t realize you were sleeping in a puddle of rainwater and broken glass. That’s not a knack you lose. The Girl was always more discerning, and became even more so after our experience in Phoenix with the inept criminal front halfway house hotel. We agreed that she can veto any of the lodgings I book. Sometimes, late at night, I’ll hold a flashlight under my chin and tell her spoOoOoky stories about hostels in Ireland.

She insisted on the airport Super 8. I was hoping to stay in a quaint deep woods motel called “Unsmiling Jed’s Sleepaway”, attached to sister business “Unsmiling Jed’s Discount Plastic Surgery Silo and Chili Kitchen”. If I can’t protect it, I don’t deserve to have it. That goes double for life.

A friendly foreign woman checked us in at the Super 8, then proceeded into utter bafflement when I asked for a first aid kit. I chewed myself up pretty good climbing Bancroft’s Castle, and I’d spent the last half hour bleeding into an oily dog blanket to avoid ruining my upholstery. That’s how plagues start.

There were no band-aids, or antiseptics, or possibly medicine as a concept. There was a three gallon tub of hand sanitizer. I thanked her, but graciously declined.

We went up to the third floor. The hallways were lined with people sitting on the carpet outside their rooms, shouting and smoking cigarettes. The room itself was clean and the air conditioning worked. All my boxes were checked. The bathroom reeked of weed, which some would interpret as a bonus. I scrubbed my wounds raw in the sink, tucked away the precious cargo of wine and peaches, and set out to investigate downtown Manchester.

Streetlight technology has not yet made its way to Manchester, so we spent twenty minutes missing exits in ocean-floor darkness. What little town we could make out looked worryingly like Wilkes-Barre, which is not where one would choose to vacation, were one sane.

Downtown erupted like graphic pop-in on a video game running at its lowest resolution. One second you’re in leatherface country, with nothing breaking the abyssal darkness but the occasional half-broken Jiffy Lube sign. The next, you’re on vibrant neon market strip, replete with hipsters and the homeless.

We knew we had hit downtown proper when we passed by the “craft grilled cheese bistro”.

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only programmers will understand!!!! like and reblog if u get it

Since I am an adult man, grilled cheese cannot be dinner. Both “gastropubs” we tried, despite their bitchin’ Greek mythology names, offered generic terrible burgers and a draft list that consisted of Coors Light.

“I’m so hungry,” the Girl told me. “I’m gonna die.”

“We all will,” I assured her. “Soon.”

Yelp claimed there was a brewery five blocks away. We walked off the only lit street into absolute, encompassing blackness. It would’ve been spooky if I didn’t always kind of hope some Putty Patrol mook would lunge at me from the dark while I’m far away from home, having told no one where I’m going and left no paper trail.

There were no incidents. No one was murdered in self-defense. No one knows what we did last summer. The Stark Brewing Company was in the basement of a grim looking office complex, and it was vacant save for two other lost souls.

We sat at the bar and ordered a flight and an imperial stout. I wanted to find an actual restaurant, but the Girl ordered “Penne with vodka sauce”, which was not the right color, flavor, or texture to be anything but penne bolognese. The Girl didn’t seem to mind. I ate a pulled pork sandwich.

The beers were warm, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter what the beers were, so long as they were beers. And not Coors Light. The brewery themed all of their beers off of dogs, for some reason, which I believe to be the ideal business model. According to the bartenders, the brewery had been open for 25 years, but hadn’t yet received their big boom.

I was outraged. The beers were excellent, and would probably be even better if they weren’t room temperature, and the taps were not only named for specific dogs, but also had pictures.

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The bathroom was covered in sharpie beer lore.

The bartender and waitresses swore a lot more than you would normally expect in this context. The Girl maintains they were swearing at us. I disagreed.

“They were swearing <i>with</i> us,” I mansplained.

“We weren’t swearing,” she countered.

“But if we HAD been.”

As I’ve grown larger and more sinuous, I’ve tried to cut back on how often I cuss at strangers. Cultural relativism is the understanding that not everyone grew up among the coalcrackers, and good-natured oaths like “how the hell are you” or use of the fuck-word as a conversational placeholder, while subjectively soothing, can set off fight-or-flight in the small, soft, and bourgeoisie.

I try to maintain direct proportionality between my barbarism and my well-heeledness. Neither the wait staff nor the other two customers shared my bond, and the middle-aged guy on my right proceeded to tell me how his hometown of Denver, Colorado is the greatest fuckin’ city in America, next to maybe Southern California. Which is not a city.

We talked about our homes and travels for a while, then I got my pulled pork sandwich and they left. The sandwich was slightly warmer than the beer. Beats the alternative.

An armada of children came into the bar.

“Oh, shit,” the bartender said. They were visibly teenagers, and on the wrong side of it. They had that gangly awkwardness you get around fourteen or fifteen, and if they were trying to play it off, they were woefully bad at it. There were also nearly twenty of them. It looked like a field trip.

People in their twenties don’t travel in packs of more than six. It’s hard to transport a throng, unless you have a party bus, and why do you have a party bus when you’re twenty-eight? You’re twenty-eight and party buses have always been sad. Get a job. Also, it’s hard to get that many adults to agree on something.

It can be done. You can say, “Hey, adults, you want to do some drugs?” And in a sufficiently sized crowd, you’ll manage to pull twenty or so who will follow you to your house or whatever. This is called an “afterparty”. It doesn’t go to bars at 9pm.

Have you felt out the social zeitgeist recently? Look at a random handful of current memes and it’ll be pretty clear that most adults consider socialization to be a required burden, like paying emotional taxes. “Going out” is the price of living in a civilized society. You’re not going to scare up twenty people, then put them in a party bus, then take them to an abandoned bar half a mile outside of where the actual nightlife is.

“Hey, we’re just about to close,” the bartender said.

A reedy blonde in a top consisting mostly of straps screeched, “But your WEBSITE said you were open til ONE!”

Screeched.

The bar fell silent. Well, more silent. The Girl and I traded looks, her horror for my delight.

“Uhhhhhh,” the bartender said, but with excellent elocution, as though that were the word she had deliberately chosen. “Okay.”

They sat the itinerant mall food court in a big corner table, whereupon they requested shots.

The waitress who had sworn at/with us the least came back to the bar and said, “You guys said you were from Pennsylvania, right?”

We nodded.

“Can I see one of your licenses quick?”

She compared mine against the obviously fake ID one of the tweens had given her. After a moment she said, “Yeah, you can see, the font is different. And the picture looks like it’s photoshopped.”

“Yeah, no one’s license picture ever looks this good,” the Girl said, studying the fake ID.

“Except mine,” I added. They ignored me. I didn’t take it personally.

The waitresses disappeared into the back. Five minutes later, the only dude working at the place was gendered into being the bad cop. He sulked over to the teens.

“You guys gotta leave,” he said. “C’mon. We know your ID’s fake. We’re not trying to get fined. You gotta go.”

For maximum accuracy, imagine this said in Toby’s voice from The Office. Shamefaced, the flash mob of children dispersed.

We paid for our room temperature beers and left the poor, foul-mouthed brewery to close at 9:30 on a Friday. The Girl and I accidentally stalked the battalion of teens through the street, but only because we were all moving back toward the only lights in the city, like moths. They turned a corner and vanished, presumably to find an arcade or laser tag or some sort of large swing set.

The Girl and I followed the sounds of some obnoxious bros announcing, “It’s like a fahkin sketchy ally, dewd”.

It was, in fact, the least sketchy alley I’d ever been in. Cat Alley was the best lit venue in all of New Hampshire. It was clean and well-maintained, and it was covered less in graffiti and more in an outdoor art gallery dedicated to cats.

There were more, but they didn’t all warrant a picture.

Portland Pie Co loomed from the endless darkness like a beacon in the night, hearkening back to those days lost in Maine during the Great Lobster Drought of 2017. We split a bourbon barrel ale which did me in. It was bedtime.

On the way back, toward the end of the main drag, a man made of pure light rode by blasting EZ-Listenin from his Tron bicycle, also made of pure light.

I can’t prove he wasn’t Jesus.

Heartened, we returned to the hotel, where no one was smoking or yelling in the hallway anymore. Excellent. I lost consciousness immediately.

Next stop, Portsmouth.

Love,

The Bastard

New Jersey: The Hatelands

February 2nd, 2018. Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

You want horror? I’ll give you horror.

New Jersey is a real place, though I don’t know why. No one benefits from it. A Canadian philosopher once told me, “Pennsylvania is just New Jersey but brown and rusty.” I would agree, but with a slight modification: “Pennsylvania is New Jersey but brown, rusty, and not an above-ground sewer that eats the life force of any who wander into it like a rancid, 4th-generation Italian will-o’-the-wisp.”

Do not mistake me. Pennsylvania is incredibly brown and rusty. I’ve lived in this coal crater my entire life, and I didn’t learn about the color “green” until I was a man (which, in the Frozen North, occurs when you bite your first coyote to death, around age 7 or 8). But if you ever enter New Jersey at night – god forbid – you’ll see everything has a faint yellow cast to it. I privately think of it as “piss smog”, though I don’t share that with anyone unfortunate enough to be in the car with me when caught in New Jersey’s event horizon.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu delineates nine types of ground you’ll happen upon in battle and the strategic applications of each. The final, and most severe, is “desperate or deadly ground”, where no tactics can save you. You burn your possessions, you tell your troops to abandon all hope, you put your backs to the wall, and you fight. As interpreted by the enormous herbalist and military advisor Li Ching:

The country is wild, destitute of water and plants; the army is lacking in the necessaries of life, the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, all the resources of strength and skill unavailing, the pass so narrow that a single man defending it can check the onset of ten thousand; all means of offense in the hands of the enemy, all points of vantage already forfeited by ourselves:—in this terrible plight, even though we had the most valiant soldiers and the keenest of weapons, how could they be employed with the slightest effect?”

It’s like Sun Tzu penned their tourism pamphlet.

Obviously, this isn’t going to be a chronicle of tourism. I was in New Jersey once by choice, five years ago. It was because of a redhead, as are all of my lasting life mistakes. I went to the Jersey Shore, not yet realizing that beaches are a waste of time, and I did what I could to ignore the fact it was basically a salty, wet landfill. Here are a couple of action shots featuring my chunky yet funky youthful incarnation making the best of it.

This was shortly after a carnie solicited that I “throw a free dart at the balloons!” I did, and popped two.

“Oh snap,” I said (it was a different time), “What do I win?”

“You have to pop at least three balloons to get a prize,” he said. “$5 to play.”

I decided I didn’t need a bootleg stuffed Garfield that bad and started on my way. The dude came roaring around the side of his booth, flailing his arms like an early Jim Carey and j’accuseing me of “NOT EVEN CARING ABOUT THE SHORE!”

“Correct,” I assured him. He seemed to get more upset, even despite my validation.

I did get a fetal shark there, though. His name is Formaldehoward and he has been the best roommate a dude could ask for.

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he’s gotten wrinklier, but who among us hasn’t?

When I escaped Jersey, I solemnly vowed to never return. I was doing well for half a decade.

I’m newly transplanted to Philadelphia, where I’ve burrowed into a seaside cave to ride out the coldest parts of the winter. Never fear, beautiful readers, I’ll run up the Rocky steps, look at statues of Benny Frank’s fat ass, and lambast the local beer as soon as I can go outside without the mucous membranes around my eyes freezing solid. If it were up to me, I’d hunker down and hibernate until I could bang through a long run without my sweat turning to shards of frost before fully escaping my pores. It’s like being stabbed by hundreds of tiny icicles.

Sadly, it’s not up to me. Enter another redhead, this one with $150 in Bed, Bath, and Beyond gift cards. The nearest Bed, Bath, and Beyond is in Cherry Hill which, for the record, featured neither cherries nor hills. It should be called Garbage Crater.

It takes a while to cross the Ben Franklin Bridge, but you can tell when you hit New Jersey because this potent ennui settles around you like a dark cloud of piss smog. Your phone will also chime, and Google Maps will tell you, “You’ve just entered New Jersey. Jeez.” and then autosuggest Suicide Hotline numbers.

The third surefire way to tell whether you’ve crossed the border is how the people around you are driving.

Are they driving like stupid assholes? Odds are good that you’re still in Philly.

Are they driving like stupid assholes who have a personal vendetta against you, and  their genitals are being mauled by wolverines, and also everyone involved is rabid, and on fire? Got some bad news for you, my friend.

After narrowly surviving some merges that would qualify as American tragedies if they’d happened in a NASCAR arena, we pulled into Bed, Bath, and Beyond in search of, apparently, a multitude of wooden cutting boards, each about an inch bigger than the last.

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i’ve got about a dozen punchlines for this one, but they’re beneath us both

If you want a pictorial summary of the Jerseygrant, it’s right here. Don’t look at it too long or you might think about it.

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We narrowly escaped with our lives (and a George Foreman Lean Mean Grillin’ Machine, which was my prime motivation for braving this outdoor dungeon). On the way back, I stopped for gas and discovered most of the t-shirts advertised Philadelphia. At the time, I wrote it off with “Well, I could understand why”.

Then, back across the Ben Franklin Bridge. Entering New Jersey is free. There are signs all over the bridge that say, “NO TOLL THIS WAY”.

But escaping costs $5.

It was a eureka moment for me, the slow-dawning realization that the only reason this enormous seaside diaper-pile can afford what it so courageously calls its infrastructure is by tithing the dumb suckers from Philly, out to visit the only nearby beach.

I slammed my mouth full of the worst chocolate covered peanuts I’ve ever had (how do you even fuck those up?) and vowed, once again, to never return to these blighted hatelands.

But I didn’t leave empty-handed.

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precioussss

Contrary to what deceitful boxes may tell you, the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Grillin’ Machine does not, in fact, remove 42% of the fat. It’s closer to 0% of the fat. It’s just a sloped panini press. If losing the juices from a burger removed the fat, wouldn’t every burger cooked on an open-grate grill be fat free?

However, it DOES cook hamburgers indoors in the dead of winter, providing me valuable iron so I’m not constantly covered in bruises trying to navigate my giant, stupid body through the trappings of civilization. One could say this trip was my paying the iron price, and one wouldn’t be wrong.

But what a price it was.

reek

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

Budapest: The Maze of Darkness

November 28, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.

It’s your boy Theseus here, giving you a punctuated play-by-play of Budapest because things are too densely crowded and chaotic to do this chronologically. Today’s bit starts both in the Castle District and in media res.

I went up to the Castle Bazaar, I was under the impression that a “Bazaar” is a sweet flea market, like every bazaar in Turkey was. I’m good on palaces for a minute, but I did need some blank t-shirts so my screenprint souvenir dealies don’t immediately out me as a tourist. I know five words in Hungarian now and that’s more than enough to fake my way through two conversational exchanges. If they see me standing there in a cheap, ill-fitting Athens shirt, they greet me in English. Contemptuously.

As it happens, sometimes a bazaar just means a large, boring courtyard. This was one of those times. Disappointed and chilly, I decided to forage up lunch somewhere in the castle district, and that’s where I discovered the Labirintus.

I’m a sucker for mazes. I’ll be it has something to do with my total lack of a sense of direction, some sort of compensatory reaction formation mechanism, like closet-gay homophobes, or Catholic schoolgirls. Plus, it was a real, live dungeon, underground, where people were imprisoned and tortured.

It’s like they left me no choice.

Budapest is built on an elaborate system of caves. Ten million years ago, most of central Europe was submerged under an enormous body of water called the Pannonian Sea.

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Four million years ago, it had shrunk to Lake Pannon, which still covered the majority of Hungary. As the flora and fauna lived and died in the water and the ecosystem shrank down, the salts and minerals became concentrated.

The capitol of Hungary is also famous for its thermal springs, which were long thought to possess supernatural healing powers because of their own weird mineral concentration. When the Pannonian water soaked through the soil and met with the miracle-water of the geothermal springs, it turned slightly caustic and, over millions of years, carved out a tremendous complex of caves. Tectonic shift drained Lake Pannon and the groundwater below it, and Budapest, being on the fault line demarcated by the Danube, was left with a sprawling natural cave system thought to be more than 62 miles (100km) long.

Terrible place to build a city what with all the sinkholes, but what are you gonna do.

Throughout its entire history, Budapest used the caves for strategic superiority. Buda proper was built around 1250 when King Béla IV of Hungary got tired of being sacked by Mongol raiders, so he moved his kingdom 200 meters away, to the top of a hill, and built a wall around it. Walls, being the only Mongolian weakness, effectively deterred them, and medieval Buda thrived.

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From that point forward, whenever Buda was threatened by siege, the soldiers (and in the case of Fisherman’s Bastion, also the fishermen) would man the walls and the rest of the population would shuffle into the caves like mole people. The strategy worked so well that Budapest used it to survive the Soviet bombings of World War II.

The Labyrinth was divvied up into four sections. The first was a wax museum based on an opera that was, in turn, based on some drama that took place in Buda Castle. The second was the eponymous Maze of Darkness. The third was the cell where King Mathias kept Vlad the Impaler imprisoned for 14 years as punishment for eloping with his adolescent daughter. The fourth was, inexplicably, a bunch of posters describing other caves in the world.

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I did the Maze of Darkness first. You don’t really appreciate how dark it can get. All the darkness we experience in civilized society is disrupted by street lamps, refracted glare, cell phones, moon and starlight. Even when we close our eyes we have something that resembles darkness, but it’s not real, true, black-as-pitch darkness.

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The Maze was deep enough under ground that there was nothing. They left a rope running along a wall to guide you through, but that was it. Without it, it’s so dark you’re not sure if your eyes are open.

I’m a big dude. I don’t rattle. But when you’re in that kind of dark, it makes you realize that if there’s anything down there that can see even a little bit better than you, it’s over. You don’t have a chance. A chihuahua with light-amp goggles could have ended my life.

Obviously, it was too dark in the Maze of Darkness to see the realized nightmare at the end, so I took a picture with flash before strategically retreating into the Straightaway of Electric Light.

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why do it

After I stopped crying, I looped around into the fog where they kept Dracula.

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pretty sure this is a sliding floor puzzle that unlocks a secret treasure room

In getting to Dracula, I scared the shit out of everyone by accident. Nobody else seemed to want to wander around a foggy, haunted dungeon alone, for some reason, so when I’d pass couples or clusters of girls in the corridors, there was nothing I could do to warn them. I’d lumber out of the mist and they would freeze or, in some cases, actually scream, and I’d just smile indulgently and keep on goin’. Not a lot to be said at that point.

I checked out the cave exhibit but it was really sad. With Dracula at large and those horrible blue children still lurking around somewhere, I bade the labyrinth farewell, got lost three times, then found my way to the exit where I overheard a British couple discussing reading of signs.

“There, see?” the dude said. “No photography allowed. Nearly missed that one, that’s important.”

“Oops.”

So don’t tell nobody.

I emerged into the frozen Budapesti day and went to find food that would, hopefully, not be sausage.

(It was sausage.)

Love,

The Bastard

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

 

 

 

Prague: Czechin’ Out

November 24, 2017. Prague, Czech Republic.

I got the itch again. It was time to get gone, and gone I got. I’m in a decent Viennese hostel right now, tapping away in bed, patiently waiting for an antisocial neckbeard to stop taking his eleven hour shower. I can hear him giggling to himself through the door. Here’s to hoping I never learn why.

I tried to write in the kitchen. Had my green tea, explored the “FREE FOOD” shelf that consisted entirely of different kinds of flour. Flour is just cakes that haven’t realized their potential yet. Could’ve had me a Flour Medley. 

I was just getting tickatackin’ when an old Brazilian DJ accosted me with screams of friendship. He invited me to his set at an African club fourteen hours from now. Well intentioned, but it’s very much 8 AM. Let a dude brood, huh?

Prague was interesting, but I found the vibe a little unsettling. Maybe it was the off-season, but the locals were all discernibly tired of tourists, and the tourists were all roving around in packs like loud, drunken wolves.

I met an Indian dude on the metro last night and we got to talking about that. He got on a bus earlier and wound up sitting behind a gaggle of American girls who were talking about dirty dishes in loud, shrill English. He fell asleep, woke up two hours later, they’re talking about the same dirty dishes.

What’s the point of traveling? You’re gonna say and do the same things you’ve always done, with the same safe little enclave, at the same volume, why leave home?

Best left to better minds than mine. Let’s talk Czechia.

Sex was on every billboard and ad. Yeah, we get that kind of thing back in America, but it’s a lot more obvious in Europe, and the most obvious in Prague. These are tamer examples, but look at her just going to town on that kebab. Unf.

My pet theory is an ingrained rebellion against the forced respect and antisexuality of the Soviets, but that’s just conjecture. There’s also the stereotype of the Czech mail-order bride, which suggest it’s more of a “flaunt it if you got it” thing.

My entire trip, no matter where I went, everyone kept warning me about how beautiful the Czech women would be. To believe the hype, every random girl on the street is going to be a flawless seraphym, glistening and effulgent, sculpted with loving and immaculate precision by the right hand of God. I’m thinking my sources might’ve been biased by the how many porn stars are Czech. I’m an aesthete – I look at paintings and shit, I own tiny statues – and I didn’t notice any statistical upshoot in walking-around hotness. Although I will say that, on a whole, Europe is much more attractive than America.

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so are you looking for a boiling grease fragrance, or more of an Eau de Stables

It must be their diet, because it certainly isn’t their exercise. Nobody even lifts, but nobody even eats 20 piece McNugget breakfasts either. No matter how thoroughly I explain the value.

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that’s the name you’re gonna go with? there was a plague, dude

A final point on Prague I didn’t get to mention: the lock bridges.

Prague is heralded as a romantic city. I didn’t see it, myself. Too crowded, too understated, too full of Wurst. But I did see an Asian couple get married at St. Vitus, or at least take some wedding pictures on the terrifying Gothic steps, and there’s a popular local tradition that really elevates littering to its most beautiful, amorous level.

You write your name on a lock, and you stick it on a bridge. It uglies up the bridge, but it stays there, presumably forever. A little more industrial than carving initials in with a knife, but you can add cute little notes in sharpie if that’s your thing.

I seemed to be the only one put off by the symbolism of a padlock representing a relationship.

Prague was a head trip, but a cold head trip, painted in dark colors. I’m about to go poke around Vienna now. I’ll let you know what I find.

Love,

The Bastard

Kutná Hora: The Bone Zone

November 24, 2017. Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

Trains aren’t so bad once you get used to them. By the time I finished this morning’s existential blogging I only had a half an hour before the train left, and it was a 25 minute walk to the station. Pretty standard odds. I skedaddled across Prague, got yelled at by the lady at the bus line and sent down the metro line where a much nicer lady sold me a $5 ticket to Kutna Hora and said, “Platform 4”.

Welp, I found platform 1, went toward it, went away from it, went toward it again, then stopped at a money changing booth and asked the lady there where Platform 4 was. She said, “Just keep going straight”, and I did, and- ahhh, okay, so it’s not like an airport.

Seats were at a premium. I tried to slip into a six-seater booth that only contained one old white woman, but she told me in Czech that it was reserved. It’s reassuring to know that old white women are like that no matter where you are.

I eventually found a seat in the cattle car section and spent the ride staring out the window and thinking about bones.

bones

A smooth hour later, I got off the train in the middle of nowhere. Since there were no roads in the middle of nowhere, hence, nowhere, I had to walk down a set of train tracks. Talk about nostalgia.

In the halcyon days of my youth, everything was a minimum four miles from everything else, and much of it was only connected by highways and bypasses. If you couldn’t drive, and you wanted to go somewhere, you took the train tracks, and you hoped there were no railway police, hallucinating junkie hobos, or Leatherface murder-hicks with the same idea.

After a few blocks the tracks ran parallel to a paved road so I had to hop a shoulder-high fence that was, as far as I could tell, made wholly of rust.

Kutna Hora was silent. I didn’t realize it at first, but for the past month I’ve been dipping from one major city to another. Traffic, noise, low-level metropolitan chaos was a constant, and the only respite I’ve got are these Wal-Mart earplugs which, realistically, are not long for this world. A car would pass, and then I could count breaths and heartbeats before another one came. You don’t realize how much you miss something like that until you don’t have it.

I basked in the quiet until it was disrupted by three Australians behind me, pointing blithely at anything with a steeple and saying, “Is that it?” On the third time, I asked if they were headed to the bone church.

“Is that it?” they repeated.

“Nope,” I said, “Around the corner, couple blocks up. I was wondering what brought ya’ll to this hub of tourism.”

They said they were studying in Prague, then asked the usual battery of questions you ask to anyone in Europe with a backpack: how long you been out, where have you been, how long will you stay out, etc. We reached the cathedral and separated before we could finish the song-and-dance.

Before we get to the good stuff, if you don’t know what the Sedlec Ossuary is, let me give you a quick rundown.

In 1278, an abbot named Henry was sent by a Bohemian king to the holy land. Pilgrimage complete, he scooped up a handful of Jerusalem’s finest dirt, then brought it back and scattered it around the abbey cemetery. Boom. Transubstantiation. That was no longer secular bohemian land, but rather, hot new Holy Land, and everybody in Europe wanted to be buried there.

Many of them would get their wish within the next hundred years, because that’s when the Black Death hit. The bodies business was booming. Then, early 1400s, the Hussite Wars make the cemetery even bigger.

The local Roman Catholic diocese responsible checked out the plot of land and said, “You know, all these consecrated bodies are great, but what we could really use, right here, in the center, is a Gothic church.” So of course they built one. Problem is, that takes a hell of a foundation, so they had to exhume a lot of the bones of the buried faithful, beplagued and slain, then just kind of… tossed ’em in the basement. No harm, no foul.

None of this was decreasing demand to get buried in the Holy Land away from Holy Land, so the bodies were still, literally, piling up. The church, in their infinite wisdom, assigned a partially blind monk the task of exhuming more bodies and stacking the bones. That was his job. Until he died, and presumably joined them.

1870 rolls around, and House Schwarzenberg is now the owner of the largest pile of bones in Europe, containing the remains of between 40,000 and 70,000 dead people in the same way that a Boston cream contains its filling when you squeeze it as hard as you can. Something’s gotta be done, so they hire a wood carver, for some reason, to put the bones in order. Little did they realize this wood carver was nuttier than squirrel shit, and lo, the Sedlec Ossuary was born.

It was incredible. It was also the first time I’ve ever touched a real human skull sans skin. They’re surprisingly tiny, but that might have been because most people in medieval central Europe were like 5’0″.

I puttered around oohing and aahing at all the upcycled dead people until the selfie brigade started to grate on me, then I went to the only restaurant in Kutna Hora and ordered what I hope wasn’t traditional Czech food from a surly, bottom-heavy waitress with eyes dead enough that she could’ve also come right from the Ossuary.

20171124_115414.jpgIt was an unseasoned chicken breast with reduction of Cream of Spinach soup on top. I didn’t realize Kutna Hora catered to bodybuilders. I ordered the potato pancakes as a side mostly for their German name, Kartoffelpuffer. Teehee. Kartoffel means potato in German, but that’s from the Italian tartufulo, which refers to a truffle, but originally both came from terrae tuber, or earth-bulb. Puffer is both self-explanatory and pretty funny.

Well, I saw the bone church, and I ate. According to tour offers, I could spend the next 6 hours in Kutna Hora learning about a medieval silver mine, but that sounded boring and awful, so I caught a train back to Prague and slithered on to a connecting FlixBus. I couldn’t order the ticket online, so the bus driver made a big deal of saying, “It will be 150% more if you buy from me now.”

“You mean, 50% more?”

“150%.”

Well, it was about 15 Euros for the ticket online, and I wound up giving him 20, which was almost all of the Czech money I had left anyway. I have another 200 or 300 CZK left in my pocket (around $25), but I’ve been on this bus for a couple hours, and I’ve got to be in Austria by now.

You know, considering my track record, you gotta wonder how many ghosts I dragged with me outta that well-stacked pile of bones.

Love,

The Bastard

Prague: Kafka, Communism, Torture, and the Horror Bar

November 23, 2017. Prague, Czech Republic.

In my dream-quest around unknown Kadath, I found so many museums that I had to pare the list down. The Beer Museum sounded good, but judging by the pictures and the greeter at the door, it was a gimmicky bar. The Sex Machines Museum wasn’t going to tell me anything that Erotic Museum hadn’t already.

I wound up going to the Kafka Museum, the Museum of Communism, and the Museum of Medieval Torture Devices. At a glance, these aren’t related, but I promise you once you’re in them you’d be hard pressed (sometimes literally) to ignore the theme.

First, Kafka. The documentaries and state-mandated tourism pamphlets are suspiciously clear that “the Prague of Kafka was only in his head, and you won’t find it here!” This is a lie. I’ve been here since I got off the bus. Nice place to visit, but much like the man himself, you wouldn’t want to live there.


this was in front of the museum. i don’t know why

The Kafka museum was all black corridors, file cabinets, and screaming. I read the Metamorphosis in high school like every other pseudo-intellectual ponce, but I just thought the guy was sad and weird. If you look at the tragedy of his life, you get a much more contextual picture of the dude who inspired the term kafkaesque.

He was neurotically high-strung. Today, it would probably be generalized anxiety disorder. He lived the whole of his life terrified of his father but unable to escape or relate to him, no matter what he tried.

In a particularly lucid moment, he breathed on a glass windowpane, drew a circle that encompassed the Old Town square and Charles Bridge. It enclosed his grade school, every home he had ever known, the university he went to as a young adult, and the office where he worked and got inspiration for most of his novels.

“Within this little circle, my whole life is contained.”

He would jaunt out to Berlin or his sister’s place in the country from time to time, but he never really got free of Prague. He had three long-distance relationships, deliberately chosen for buffer of safety the long-distance provided him. His writings explored exclusion, isolation, and the despair of being a lone individual against an overwhelming machine. When he contracted tuberculosis, it was almost as a moral victory. He had been struggling with something inside his entire life, and it had finally decided that they’d fought long enough.

Poor, haunted bastard. I’ve started reading The Castle since.

I also happened into the Museum of Communism. This could have gone either way. I knew that Czechia was east of the Iron Curtain, so I couldn’t imagine they had many warm and fuzzy feelings for the system that gave them their highest civilian fatality count since the Black Plague. But I also knew it was a very liberal, metropolitan area, and I was working from behind a notably American veil of ignorance. Leftist college students back home have a tendency to bank left so hard that, were they actually riding in a gulag train, it would overturn on the curve.

I’m certainly not here to proselytize about politics, there are so many more satisfying and provocative ways to piss people off. But here’s a picture dump of things I found either funny or horrifying, straight from the mouth of a city that survived it.

The currency reform especially staggered me. Imagine making $40,000 a year, then waking up one day to find, apropos of nothing, that you now make $8,000 a year because General Motors needed another bail out.

When I first entered the Commuseum, they gave me my ticket and a voucher for a free coffee. By the end of the exhibit, I could certainly have used to a sit-down, so I waited in the cafe line. I’m tryna kick coffee, though. When it was my turn, I gave the guy behind the counter my voucher and asked him for a tea.

He looks me dead in the eyes and says, “We’re out of tea.”

For a second I thought this was an elegantly planned joke, but he didn’t break. He was dead serious. I lost my shit, man. It was the hardest anyone has ever laughed in that grim museum. Dude must have thought I was having some kind of episode.

After that, I made my way to the Lennon Wall (distinct from the Lenin Wall, which was only slightly more communist). It’s a wall that students have been covering in John Lennon-inspired graffiti, Beatles lyrics, and bumper-sticker rhetoric since the 80s.

From Wikipedia:

In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as “Lennonism” and Czech authorities described these people variously as alcoholics, mentally deranged, sociopathic, and agents of Western capitalism.

Oops. They already made the Lenin joke. Welp, too late now.

Taking pictures of the wall proved to be difficult since everyone horrible in Prague was trying to pose for selfies in front of it.

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i’m afraid you’re misinformed

I brooded there for a little while, visions of cockroaches and bread lines still a-dance in my head, then made my way to the Medieval Torture Museum.

Let me just say this: Dark Ages Europe was kinky.

And that’s just for starters.

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the Gridiron. this was the prototype George Foreman grill. watch the fat slide right off!

the knee-breaker. honestly pretty self-explanatory

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no explanation needed, i’ve submitted my share of insanes 

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here we got a real Fifty Shades sort of thing going on, presumably to punish this thicc peasant woman for being, I don’t know, awake

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described as “The Vigil”, the inventor heralded it as a new breakthrough in torture technology. seems to me like a suspicious amount of work to put a pyramid up a dude’s butt, but w/e

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this is called “the Pear”. if you don’t know, google it, they don’t pay me enough to explain this to you. but I will say this: its versatility is surprising

The take home of my Prague museum experience was “fetishized hopelessness”. Well, that was about enough museums for one day. I went outside and bought an “authentic Czech hotdog” which tasted like a hot Slim Jim with mayonnaise on it. It was exactly as appetizing as it sounds.

Then, on the way back, it was starting to get dark. I had a train to catch at the crack of dawn tomorrow, so I opted to grab an evening beer at the celebrated Prague Nightmare Horror Bar.

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i expected him to be taller

The bartender was a manic pixie nightmare girl, talking a mile a minu- 1.60934 kilometers a minute, eyes darting and frantic. She served me the first good beer I’d had in Europe, a semi-imperial stout called Master’s, then got excited when I mentioned the Sedlac Ossuary and began gesturing with a menu in an effort to explain how to get there from the train.

I love when ADHD girls have English as a second language because it doesn’t slow their speech. They just make a more exciting array of faces when searching for the right words. It’s like watching an adorable kaleidoscope.

Next to me at the bar was a 70-year-old Scotsman who claimed to have fought in World War II. Not giving Common Core much credit there, laddie, but I can’t say I blame you. No one could understand what the hell he was saying.

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He was drunk, and old, and mumbling, and just so incredibly Scottish. It was a perfect storm of incomprehensibility, and he made no effort to correct it whatsoever. Instead, he’d repeat himself with the same tone and inflection, and watch you expectantly. The bartender folded her skinny, tattooed little arms and put her head down on the bar, then looked at me in desperation.

“You are American,” she said.

I shrugged. “But not Scottish.”

“Ye bent’a Scootlin?” he asked me, and I got most of that.

“Nope,” I said. “Just Ireland.”

“FOOK Irelin.”

I laughed. “Thought you might say something like that, yeah.”

“‘nth’ Germans. We nev’r liked ’em.”

“Really? In Scotland?”

“Aye,” he said, without nodding, which was really difficult for me to process each time he did it. “Nev’r liked ’em. Think’t deyshud own th’ worl’.”

“At least twice, they thought that, yeah.”

He laughed hoarsely and slapped me on the back.

“Do not take the bus tour,” the bartender said, jabbing at the map with a lacquered black fingernail. “It is a waste, they just want your money. Never take the bus if you can take the Metro. You know where the metro is? The, ahhh, tren? Train. Train! Take the train, every time. Much faster, much better.”

“I knew tren,” I said. “But yeah, the tour was supposed to be seven and a half hours, talking about a mining town? I’m not in for seven hours. I just want to see the bone church, here.”

“Bone Church is incredible,” she said, enthusiastically slapping everything in sight. “I spent two hours there, maybe three hours. It’s small but there’s so much to do in there, so much you can see. Part of it is always closed. Two rooms were closed when I was there but there were still the rest of the rooms and there was so much, it was incredible. But there’s nothing to do in the city. Not even a city. Like, two bars, one store, some houses.”

“That doesn’t sound like a city.”

“It’s a village.”

“It’s a VILLAGE?”

She made somewhere between eighteen and thirty-six different faces before saying, “Well, not a VILLAGE. Is a town. Small town. Nothing to do there! Mining, once. Not worth it. Save your money, go to the church from the Metro. Much more money for you to have, come back to Prague with it. Much more going on.”

“Yeah, I don’t care about mining. Plenty of that where I’m from.”

At that point, the Scotsman started to tell me about when his wife and dog died on the same day. Fergie, was the dog’s name. He didn’t mention the wife’s. I finished my second beer and bade my friends farewell.

“Worr y’gen?”

“I gotta head out,” I said. “Early day tomorrow.”

“Pah! Juslyk n’Amerc’n.”

I grinned and ghosted into the damp, oppressive streets of Kafka’s Prague.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I got some bone sculptures to peep.

Love,

The Bastard