London: Trains, Innit?

September 27, 2019. London, England.
Sountrack: The Clash – London Calling

No one was open carrying. What the hell is a “prime minister”? I needed to get out of this ridiculous country.

In the wasted days of my youth, Rocky Road to Dublin had left a real impression on me. In the days before Uber, before dependable bus schedules, before driver’s licenses or smart phones, my grimy street urchin friends and I would walk from town to town along the railroad tracks, just like Kerouac always cosplayed, and that was one of our favorite songs to howl atonally into the junkie-haunted woods.

The doofy farm boy protagonist arrives at Dublin and gets robbed. He asks around, and the Dublinites tells him that whoever robbed him was definitely back in London (Connaught) by now. This schmuck believes it and stows away on a ferry from Dublin to Wales. He arrives at the port and some Liverpool Englishmen make fun of him for being a dumbass. Our protagonist, in a fit of druidic rage, casts shillelagh and calls upon the sacred rite of donnybrook. A few absolute lads from Galway heard the call and were honorbound to hurl themselves into the melee. The song ends here, at the zenith of this fun-size race war.

Well, I was already in London. Just work backwards. A train to Holyhead, then a ferry to Dublin, whack follol de rah.

I left my hostel and hoofed it across London. All told, the walk was about an hour. I could have got a bus, but this was my only chance at exercise for the day, and I figured it would get me a look proper at the city, in case I was selling it short. Besides, walking was good enough for me back then.

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God has abandoned us

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It was like any other city, but the inhabitants are even more adamant about avoiding incidental eye contact.

I tried to get a cheeky Nando’s, but they were closed until ten minutes before I had to catch my ridiculous $80 train. I wasn’t going to roll those particular dice.

I had this gross hard pierogi, instead. It filled the void.

We cattle-carred into the first train, the Britons and I. There was an arbitrary savesies system in effect that was not explained. I picked a seat that may or may not have been reserved; European politeness would prevent them from chasing me out anyway, and I was good until Manchester, where I had to jump ship onto a much cheaper $20 ticket to Holyhead.

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featuring death #wales #bastardtravel

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Everything England lacked aesthetically, Wales made up for. I stopped reading and stared out the window for most of the two hours.

And then, finally, Holyhead.

Little did I know, it’s not actually a tourist destination.

Love,

TB

London: The Broken Clock

September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Ghost – Monstrance Clock

Fortified by fine English porter, I leapt majestically over a puddle and then diverted my attention to another gaudily overwrought imperial legislation building. Despite my incredible agility, catlike poise, and natural grace, this led to me not looking where I was going, and I tripped on a loose cobblestone.

Just a little stumble. Not even a tumble! I never lost my footing due to the aforementioned podracer reflexes, even GABA inhibited as I was.

Still, this temporary loss of face was enough to send a couple of fancy lads behind me into screaming hysterics. Real middle school hours, right in their mid twenties! Could this be hooliganism?

I whirled on them, equilibrium restored.

“Hey,” I said. “Where’s the big clock at?”

“Wot?” one said, in the same voice and tone I use for peasants in D&D.

“The big clock?” the other asked. “You mean Big Ben?”

“Unless there’s another one.”

“Right there,” one pointed. We were mates now. “It’s under construction, though.”

“Cheers,” I said.

I turned the corner and gazed upon the legendary Big Clock, the iconic building that serves as Britain’s biggest tourism draw.

My laughter was perhaps a little mean-spirited.

I stood on the bridge over the Thames and looked at the big broken clock. I admit to being mildly raucous. Raucous enough for a local to overcome the nation’s stereotypical self-reservation.

“It is what it is,” she told me without slowing her pace. “Whole country’s under construction, innit?”

“So I see!”

(The words you can’t make out are “scenic vista of the mighty Thames”).

I also checked out a big ferris wheel which, I was told, is also a big draw to London. I’d never heard of the big ferris wall until I was in the city and Google Maps told me it was a landmark. I guess it’s been pushed up to number 1.

Just messing with you. We all know there’s only the one reason to go to London.

I was well and fully cashed on this particular city. The Mayflower was making more sense by the second. I got one last eyeful along the river and headed back to my hostel.

Love,

B.

London: Empires and Ashes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You ever read that poem, Ozymandias?

Love,

B.

London: Fish and Chips

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Primus – Fish On

I just finished re-reading a masterpiece of anti-agricultural thought called Against the Grain, and the sordid history of the potato? Absolutely bonkers.

Nothing is more British than fish and chips, except maybe atavistic royalty and losing control of colonies. The question is, why is fish and chips so British?

Potatoes are and always have been poor person food. That sounds classist, but it’s a fact. You can grow potatoes on a 5-foot square plot, they’re calorically dense, and you don’t even need an oven to cook them. You just throw them into a fire and then eat them after. Bone apple teeth.

England hated potatoes and loved bread. Their devotion to tradition ensured it was the mainstay of their meals for most of their history.

So Ireland would make the wheat, and the British would take the wheat, and kick Ireland in the ribs for good measure. Trendsetters as they were back in the 19th century, most of Europe considered the potato food fit only for livestock and the Irish. The French thought it was poisonous.

It got so bad that this zany reverse-correlation developed where it was popularly believed that eating potatoes made you poor, sick, and dirty. The people eating the potato were the ones who couldn’t afford anything else, so of course they were poor, sick, and dirty.

Another reason Ireland leaned so heavy on potatoes was England clear-cut all of Ireland’s forests, and they had no fuel left. To make bread, in addition to wheat, you need a place to mill it and a place to bake it. The Irish poor had neither. They didn’t even have coal; they were burning peat. That narrowed it down.

Here’s how narrow. The Irish had a saying: “The sauce of a poor man is a little potato eating with a big one.”

In the beginning of the 19th century, populations were booming everywhere and England had more poor to contend with than they ever had before. Not even just in Ireland, either! Domestic poor. There wasn’t enough bread to go around, so they gradually began adopting potatoes, though nobody was happy about it.

And now enters the colorful little edict of “enclosure”. In the early 1800s, subsistence farmers in Ireland and England were booted off of farmlands taken for the aristocracy. It bankrupted Ireland, inasmuch as Ireland could be more bankrupted, and almost certainly played a role in the potato famine.

So these peasants aren’t peasants any more, because they lost all their fields. They had become wage workers for the nobles who scooped up their farms. No place to grow your food, and not enough money to buy it… what’s a boy to do, Jean Valjean?

The English poor started growing potatoes in what was left of their backyards. The “lazy root” was back on the table.

In industrial English tenements, there were no cooking facilities whatsoever. Industrialization sucked up all the land, and a package of calories that could be speed-cooked on the literal street became very attractive.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

Factories in England didn’t have anything resembling a concept of “worker’s rights”, and so paid their expendable machine fodder underclass in one lump sum. “Split it amongst yourselves. Shoo.”

The workers would take the wages down to the public house to split it up. The pubs did a decent business with drinks as it stood, and now everybody was coming in at least once a week with all of their money.

Well, all the people had was potatoes and occasional fish. So that’s what they cooked up and sold, on the spot, every payday and throughout the week.

And thus, fast food was born.

Appetizing, isn’t it?

I’m going to level with you; the fish was so greasy I barely made it through, and I am an insatiable human vortex. I didn’t eat any of the potatoes. They make you poor and dirty.

Another proud, closely held tradition.

Love,

B.

 

London: The Tower of London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They just keep doing things for centuries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHICH #hats #headwear #war #London #bastardtravel

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

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

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

“QUITE RIGHT SIRE! ASTUTELY PROPHESIED”

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

B.

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

Barcelona: Encontré las Comunistas

October 26, 2017. Barcelona, Catalonia, Madrid.

The next day was a profoundly surreal amalgam of political dissent and nightmare art.

I run hot. I’m a fleshy furnace, and back in the Frozen North I considered 50 degrees to be t-shirt weather. As per the recommendations made by The Savvy Backpacker, I invested in three long-sleeve button downs because “You can just roll up the sleeves if it gets too hot!”

This doesn’t work. This makes your elbows hotter, and the rest of you no less hot. This was fine in Ireland, where it was always raining and cold, but in Spain the weather is perfect every day all the time forever and it was going to kill me.

I went to a kitschy souvenir shop and bought three t-shirts for 20€. Two of them were generic Barcelona dealies and one was an appropriately red shirt with a bull on it that said ESPAÑA. In the Wes Craven bathrooms of the Hell Museum of Psychosis Art (will cover in coming post) I switched into it and then went wandering through the narrow, winding alleys that comprise the city’s cultural district.

Earlier, at a coffee shop called the Sweetophelia Cafe, I was interrupted in my caffeinated morning blog musings by a troupe of flag-waving communist teens marching down the street with a police escort and shouting. I tried to get a video but my phone was charging and, with how long it takes to boot up, I’m pretty sure it’s running Windows 95. As I meandered through the labyrinth of corner shops and bars that is the Circulo de Arte, I found what must have been a major civic building where every political dissident under the age of 20 had gathered to shout in Catalan.

All the heavy hitters were there. Hammer and sickle flags, antifa in bandannas, dreadlocked white dudes with gauges, news vans, the whole nine yards. A lot of them were wearing flags for capes. No one was pleased. Further back, along the fence, locals 35 years of age or older looked on in notable disquiet.

I approached one of the girls along the fence and asked “Disculpe, que es esto sobre?” which was the closest I could get “The hell is going on here?”. She served me up a withering look and told me that it is about independence from Spain.

My dumb ass says “Okay, thanks!” and continues blithely on my way. In retrospect, I would’ve probably walked away whistling, if I could whistle.

I’m observing the protest when I catch my reflection in window glass and realize:

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whoops

(note: i made this face on purpose but this is coincidentally the same face that everyone in Dublin made 24/7)

So all this mean mugging is not necessarily because I’m a filthy American tourist, but because I’m doing the equivalent of walking around colonial Lexington 1775 with an “ENGLAND RULZ” shirt. I scrambled into an alley and changed into a less incendiary Barcelona shirt. I could see the la policia around the corner in another window reflection, but I can’t imagine they would stop what they were doing and yell at me for pulling a quick Superman switch as far from the public eye as I could get without buying more tapas.

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It was a madhouse, but, because it was not in America, none of the children were maced or beaten. I poked around until I found a trio of 15-year-olds who spoke enough English to give me a synopsis of what they were protesting.

Catalonia wants to secede from Spanish rule. I’m a major proponent of liberty, so if I had a dog in this fight, it would be Catalonia’s. They were going to hold a formal withdrawal but that same day there was some sort of closed-doors meeting at this particular building, and it was announced that tomorrow Catalonia would be involved in the Spanish presidential elections. The whole secession was swept right under the rug.

I thanked them for the information, explaining (unnecessarily) that I’m an American and that we don’t hear much about this, because of our own political circus. I wished them the best and headed out of the demonstration before anyone decided to get punchy.

I’m a simple dude. If you want freedom, I want you to have it. Buena suerte, Barcelona. I’d say it in Catalan but I definitely can’t.

Love,

The Bastard