A thrilling visual recount of my trip to the Sedlac Ossuary, the Czech Republic’s premiere corpse art installation and dead Catholic storage locker.
Those were the days.
A thrilling visual recount of my trip to the Sedlac Ossuary, the Czech Republic’s premiere corpse art installation and dead Catholic storage locker.
Those were the days.
Monday, September 16, 2019. Seltjarnarnes, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Steve Winwood – Higher Love
“Is he here?”
“Is he coming?”
“He said ‘omw’ twenty minutes ago.”
“Is he still?”
“I don’t know!”
The sudden paroxysm of rain drove us into another tourist trap corner shop trying to sell us reindeer pelts and metal puffin figurines. The owner kept telling us if we had any questions, let her know. We were waterlogged foreigners with forty pound backpacks. We obviously weren’t in the market for indigenous wool underwear, but we still smiled and nodded.
We told Braxton to rendezvous at 101 Reykjavik Street Food, which was not a street food stand but a whole-ass restaurant, specializing in soup. Strangers in a strange land. I ordered fish and chips.
They were breathtaking.
We were getting by on stolen wifi, so each time we wanted to send a smoke signal to Braxton we had to brave the tempest and hover around outside a Danish bar, hunching to protect our phones from the wind.
This afforded us the opportunity to explore some of the local souvenir stores.
I don’t buy things at souvenir stores for many reasons. One, they’re obviously cheap garbage. Two, they’re impractical; I have everything I need already, like Diogenes except well-groomed and handsome. Three, research suggests clutter makes you insane. Four, I travel out of a backpack. Where the hell am I going to store a drinking horn for the next two weeks?
That said, it was a force of will at the Thor Store. The viking appropriation was strong. They had entire Norse pantheon chess sets, Mjollnir bottle openers, and runic man-jewelry of carved bone for every occasion. Not to mention Thor himself, rendered in wood.
After a half hour of scrambling in the rain and snatching handfuls of Wi-Fi like NeoTokyo techno-urchins, Braxton said, “I’m parked outside street food.”
We reconnoitered. He was not. No cars were on the street. However, in the reconnoiter, I discovered the Gay Road to Church.
“Tell him to meet us at the church. It’s like a block away.”
“That’s where you are?” he texted back. “Okay omw.”
It was not a block away. I miscalculated in equal parts to my crippling directional insanity and the absurd size of the Hallgrimskirkja. It wound up being a half mile away.
“I thought you said street food!” Braxton said.
“Reykjavik street food!” Ladygirl said.
“Oh. I was at Iceland Street Food. It’s two blocks away.”
The rain cleared because we were in a car now. Braxton took us to his place, a secret safehouse buried deep in the sprawling, idyllic backyards of an upper-class suburb. It was spartan, but cozy. The variety of dried fish snacks spread on the coffee table suggested he had acclimated to his new adopted home, but the panoply of liquor decorating the kitchenette windowsill suggested that though you could take the boy out of the skook, getting the skook out of the boy was another matter entirely.
“I’ve got two hours of work left,” he said. “You guys can rest up here, shower, help yourself to the fish jerky. I’ll be back and then we can check out some nature.”
We agreed, and off he went to keep the greens. I took a shower, laid down on the couch, and “rested my eyes” in a Dad-ly fashion, immediately losing consciousness until he came home.
Braxton took us through a sequence of winding back alleys that gave a punctuated tour of the neighborhood and led out to a scenic peninsula peppered with lighthouses.
“What the hell are those?” I asked.
“This is Europe,” Braxton said. “They love weird nude modern art statues. Can’t get enough of them. They’re everywhere.”
“What are they doing?”
Whatever it was, it seemed suspicious. We fled the homunculi and made our way out to the coastline.
Braxton couldn’t stop singing “Higher Love” during this excursion, but he didn’t know any words except “bring me a higher love” and a vocal rendition of the trumpet fill. I tried to displace it with a sea shanty, but it didn’t take.
The tide was rising and we weren’t technically allowed to approach the lighthouse, according to many signs that I couldn’t read. Fortunately, there are no cops in Iceland, and nothing to stop us except our own looming mortality.
We hurried down the peninsula across a hundred yards of rotten seaweed and fish guts, kicking up grotesque clouds of hardy sea flies that didn’t seem to mind the fact it was 40 degrees.
The lighthouse was locked, but it was still scenic enough, if you’re into that sort of thing.
“Oh nice,” I said. “Leprechauns. Or maybe elves, here? Huldufólk! I remember, they said they got elf dicks at the weiner museum. Braxton, you coming to the weiner museum with us?”
“That sounds… really great, but I’m gonna have to pass.”
“They have 230 different mammal phalluses,” I said. “Phallusees. Phalli? Dongs. 230, my dude, and they allege that some of them are from elves, and others from trolls. You don’t wanna look at a troll dong? How do you live here and you’ve never checked it out?”
“It costs money,” Braxton said.
I shook my head. “Unbelievable.”
Ladygirl took a creepshot of me while I was friggin’ around with my own camera up on the rocks.
“All this skipping through rancid fish guts has got my appetite worked up,” I said. “Where can we get food?”
“No more fish,” Ladygirl pleaded. “I haven’t built up a tolerance to this much fish yet. Give me like, one day.”
“Most of it’s fish,” Braxton said thoughtfully. “There’s a thai place that’s good. Or do you guys want burgers?”
“Burgers,” Ladygirl said.
“I always want burgers,” I told him. “Braxton, please. My people, they’re starving.”
And so, we returned to base, caught a bus to Reykjavik proper, and sought out borgar.
December 2, 2017. Dresden, Germany.
FlixBus is a bunch of filthy, mouthbreathing animals. They talk a big game about their bus internet, but once you get onto it, you learn it’s an elaborate German ruse. For some reason, the trap didn’t spring until I got into Germany, but I think FlixBus had been plotting it the entire time I was in Europe, earning my trust by degrees. Toying with me. Then, once I was in for a ten-hour bus ride, the unwashed, skulduggerous, drug addict hyenas that orchestrate these bus routes like some dark and deviant god pulled the plug on the so-called “bus internet”.
Ten hours, I rotted in that cell on wheels! Ten hours I languished in an Amish diesel nightmare, not so much as a scrap of Wi-Fi to be found. I didn’t even have the map downloaded. You want to take a guess how long I tried to download the map?
I’ll find the miserable, hoary, addled son of a bitch who did this to me one day, and I swear before all the saints and angels that I will dance in his blood.
Anyway. Deutschland. Ja, das ist fuckin kalt. It wasn’t nearly as kalt in Budapest, so fool that I was, I thought I’d be fine in just a t-shirt and coat.
I was not.
Fortunately, Dresden is presently devoted wholly to Christmas, and you can’t walk ten meters without hitting a Christmas Market. I’m sure we have these stateside — we do love markets — but never anything like this. It reminded me of the church picnics that would paralyze the townships of my childhood and herd all the adults into parking lots to drink beer and eat pierogies, but pierogies were conspicuously absent.
(I know pierogi is the plural, shut your goddamn mouth)
Instead, there were brats. This would be a running theme throughout the whole of my stay in Germany. No matter where you went or what you did, your only hope for food was some form of wurst. It was usually currywurst, but sometimes, specifically in Christmas Market times, it was bratwurst. And oh, the glühwein! It flowed like… well, like you’d expect.
Tremendous MacBeth cauldrons of the stuff, manned by grinning German men in hokey holiday dress, the whole square stinking of cinnamon and cloves. Glühwein is a Germanic holiday drink, mulled wine everywhere else. You take red wine, you heat it up, you slam-dunk whatever incense your grandma smelled like in there, and then you drink it in the cold. Immediately, you’re warm. It’s a Christmas miracle. Ein Weihnachten Wunder. +30 Frost Resistance, effective immediately.
The other stands sold fried dough covered in sugar, as did every other building everywhere in Europe. They love baked goods so much it’s uncanny. There were also souvenir stands, weird little trinkets with city or religious significance, and a distressing number of puppets.
This is something that isn’t talked about often, but central and eastern Europe are absolutely nuts for marionettes. You can’t get away from them. You’ll want to, believe me. They’re freaky. Freaky and omnipresent and watching you, judging you, with their bulging, painted, sightless eyes. Wooden demon’s eyes.
In typically understated German fashion, there was also Der Goldenerreiter, a dude made of gold riding a horse, also made of gold, in the middle of the town square. His name was Augustus the Subtle.
Strong, sorry. Augustus der Stark.
It was a scenic river overlook of four buildings, churches and municipal dealies with breathtaking architecture that I couldn’t get a picture of because it was dark.
I wound up in a brauhause, hopeful that what I’d heard about German beer was true. Dark news, kids. The weizen is the best you can hope for. See, the Germans, strong traditionalists, have had this grim law in affect since 1516 called the Reinheitsgebot. In English, it’s something along the lines of “The German Beer Purity Law”, and it stated in a tone that brooked no argument that the ONLY ingredients that could be in beer were water, barley, and hops.
Absolutely brutal. Just like that Harry Chapin song about the teacher who won’t let the kid color flowers anything but red.
Don’t worry, they’re not that draconian. They modified the law in 1993(!). From Wikipedia:
“The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany.”
What I’m trying to communicate here, friends and neighbors, is that I’m an American boy, born and bred, and I’m used to exciting shit in my beer like frosting and cranberries and whatever else they had lying around the microbrewery. I like stouts! They’re full of chocolate and espresso and smoke. That’s the trifecta, infinitely better than that hyper-bitter quintuple IPA crap everyone pretends to like.
In Germany, what you get is lager. Sometimes the lager tastes more like wheat, sometimes it tastes a little darker and heavier, but at the end of the day, it’s nationalist PBR and I’m not out here for it. Still, when in Rome, gladiate, and when in Germany, drink beer until it’s not cold anymore.
Unfortunately, it was cold. Forevermore. I tried to do the sightseeing thing the following day, but everything was way too far from everything and I could feel my bone marrow freezing. Less than ideal tourist conditions. I eventually found a restaurant that would let me steal WiFi, and I ordered what appeared to be a giant bowl of cheese.
The menu assured me it was a traditional Dresden dish. It was sort of like a French onion soup thing, only instead of French, German, and instead of onion, pork. But it was warm, and calorically dense, and you best believe I inhaled it.
I was on the first bus to Berlin the next morning. Dresden was nice, but even the locals I knew warned me that it was not, perhaps, the ideal portrait of Germany. “The most racist city in Germany” was how it was described to me, due to the massive refugee population. The refugees themselves seemed nice; they were piss drunk in the streets, blasting reggae and dancing as though it weren’t 4 degrees out. More power to them.
Be A Bandit, my hostel insisted on the morning of my departure. Well, I do try.
November 29, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.
It’s hard to look at the weirdly rounded mountains and omnipresent crumbling limestone deposits and not imagine that it’s all still underwater, especially at night. It’s hard to take a picture that neatly isolates what I’m talking about, but the overall impression is that Budapest was probably where the original Castlevania games were set.
In one of the endlessly sprawling parks, I found this little summary of how Budapest happened. Buda is the mountainous side, Pest the one with all the buildings leaning backward for some reason. Around the corner was Philosophy Park, which didn’t feature any of my favorites but I was still honorbound to check out.
Can you name them? Probably not, because the artist took a hell of a lot of creative liberties. Let’s make it a matching game. Above we got Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus the Christ, St. Francis Assisi, and Bodhidharma. The dude skipping legs is Gandhi.
He was the easiest to guess. Also present was Abraham, groveling in the dirt, as is the typical requisite demand of his horrifying god.
There was also allegedly a statue of Ankhenaten, alias Amenhotep IV, an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who died around 1334 BC. He was the one who dragged ancient Egypt toward monotheism through worship of Aten, a kind of catch-all solar superdeity.
I say allegedly because I defy you to look at this sculpture and tell me this isn’t a fuckin annunaki.
Philosophy Park’s little plaque alleges that it was sculpted to pay homage to the great minds who increased understanding and compassion throughout the world and helped shape culture, but I’m pretty sure it was just dude’s hamfisted attempt to Leo da Vinci some Ancient Aliens lip service.
After that I headed up to Castle Hill proper and peeped the palace, the decorative statuary, and the associated vistas.
Further down through the Castle District is the Matthias Cathedral and Fisherman’s Bastion.
The cathedral is done up in a Gothic Revivalist style, which makes it look sort of like a Batman coloring book. Fisherman’s Bastion got its name from the fact that it was always manned by fishermen, who were rarely effective fighters, but did well enough that Buda Castle never fell in the middle ages.
They were charging admission to walk the 20 foot ramp to the top of Fisherman’s Bastion, then walk back down it again. I passed.
Across the bridge was Budapest’s oldest castle, Vajdahunyad Vara. It shared a lake with Heroes’ Square, which was a sort of Parthenon for Hungarian culture heroes like King Matthias and St. Stephen.
Among them is a bust of Bela Lugosi.
This wasn’t an approved statue. There was an empty alcove on the castle’s exterior, so a German artist named Hartmut Zech took a trip to Budapest and he and his friends hid it there in the middle of the night.
Zech has done this kind of thing before. He made a bust of Jim Morrison and used a baby stroller to push it into the cemetery where Morrison is buried. That was removed before the week was out. But the Budapest authorities came to the castle, saw the bust, shrugged, and just kind of left it. So there it remains.
Across the river from my hostel, in Gellért Hill, there’s a church in a cave. It once belonged to yet another local saint, St. Ivan, who used thermal water to heal the sick. The same pools he used now flow into the Gellért Thermal Baths, which I’m going to go check out and get healed by when I get around to it.
It sure was a church in a cave. They gave me a headset for an audio tour. It was not optional.
I can’t stand audio tours. Just give me a plaque or a reference booklet. It’s like opening an article, then learning that it’s only a youtube video, so you immediately close the article. I can read exponentially faster than your voice actor can talk, I don’t care if they’re auctioneering. Let me learn shit on my own and get on with my life.
Not only was I subjected to an absolutely draaaaaagging audio presentation about what turned out to be a panoply of Roman Catholic wood carvings, it veered off into explaining chunks of Catholic dogma like the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What’s unusual is, it wasn’t explaining it informatively. It was explaining it sort of like an affirmation, because it was clearly operating under the assumption that you wouldn’t be in this saint’s cave church unless you, yourself, were Catholic, and Jesus is our Lord, and the Sacred Heart represents our need not to just acknowledge Jesus’ actions but also his inner thoughts and motivations that led him to being such a fuckin’ bang-up messiah and all this other culty shit I learned in childhood and repressed.
For a reason!
There was a projector running upstairs. The movie showed slow-motion videos of happy children running while piano-led Hungarian covers of Imagine Dragons songs played in the background. Then it shifted to a cabal of priests, all decked out in clerical vestments, telling the appropriated Native American “two wolves live within us” story next to a waterfall.
Have you ever seen a clergyman in full finery hanging out on a hiking trail, let alone seven of them? It’s incredibly bizarre. There’s something viscerally wrong about seeing them all gussied up outside of a church, just prowlin’ around in the woods with God’s ballroom gown dragging behind them.
For dinner, I opted to try the For Sale ruin pub. It’s covered in papers, and you can add to them if the spirit moves you.
I got a menu from a waitress and sat at a table for five minutes, but no one came near me. This was just as well, since all the food was a minimum of 4000FT ($15), and the place was crawling with bugs. If you looked at a light, you could see dozens of little gnats and flies buzzing around like dust motes.
I left the menu and approached the bar, whereupon the bartender disappeared into the back room and never returned. I gave her a few minutes, then decided an overpriced lager full of spiders didn’t sound ideal and left.
I eventually scavenged a porter and some Hungarian ratatouille at an underground hipster bar. I know it was a hipster bar because of the Transformers decals on the wall, and the waiter’s preposterous waxed mustache.
The vegetables were a godsend. I’m a carnivorous dude, but I’m also fairly in tune with my flesh prison, and three days of nothing but sausage fat and fried potatoes leaves you feeling lethargic, ponderous, and sort of undead.
I’d been staving off scurvy with supermarket fruit juice, but even that proves to be a challenge when you’re functionally illiterate. I’ve been flagging down locals and saying, “Excuse me, this giant word next to 100%, is it ‘juice’?”
They think it’s funny, but it’s not. It’s very serious.
All right, I’ve written so much that WordPress’s shitty word processor is starting to arbitrarily reformat and delete what I’ve already put down, so that’s my cue. See you soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the knee-breaker. honestly pretty self-explanatory
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
November 14, 2017. Athens, Greece.
I wheeled through the Syntagma side of town and found my way into a local-recommended madhouse called Estrella. It was humming with humans. The waitresses were sweating through their blouses. They stuck me in a corner and gave me a menu and, for some reason, a Raphael place mat.
Let’s unpack this a little bit. We have Raphael, there, apropos of nothing, right in the middle. He’s in some kind of old-timey town, I don’t know where. Says Athens on the top, kind of. Doesn’t look like Athens. There’s a coach, but no cars that I can see. Maybe this is from Turtles in Time, and he’s somewhere between 1800 and 1920. What’s that thing the homeless guy is leaning against? A bus stop? A phone booth?
And then, at the bottom: “You got the spirit don’t lose the feeling”, which sounds a line from the dubbed English theme song of some anime about ranching slimes.
I picked my way through the menu, most of which consisted of “64 degree Celsius eggs”, which is 141 in real degrees, or almost hot enough to kill foodborne bacteria. I opted to try a breakfast pizza with a Greek name.
Listen, man. You can’t just call something a pizza because there’s round bread at the bottom. A pizza has a layered, homogeneous distribution of toppings, and those are never seeds. What you committed here… was a breakfast pile. Eggs, gruyere cheese, avocado sludge, and sri racha. Too rich for me, but I definitely needed the calories. I dipped and wandered, in search of a mandolin.
I don’t play mandolin, and I don’t actually want one, but I am curious as to how much they are in Greece. If they’re like 20 Euros, I’ll find a way to bring it with me on the planes. It doesn’t look good. I’ll report back when I find one.
I stumbled on a rage room, which sounds like something I’d be into at first. Sadly, I can’t get behind it. The pricing is outrageous! 10 Euros to break 20 bottles? Where I’m from there’s a place we can break bottles for free, and it’s called “behind the Wawa.” And they wrap you in all this ridiculous safety gear, looking like a hockey goalie moonlighting as a welder.
If you’re not ready to maybe lose an eye in venting your anger, what you’re experiencing is not “rage”.
When I was a filthy teenage hood rat, we had our own version of the rage room. It was called “the junkyard”. You gotta stick the sledgehammer through a belt loop so you can jump the fence, but then you’re golden. You drink Old Crow out of the Spencer’s rhinestone PIMP flask and then you cycle through your weapons; a good crowd would have the option of hammer, railroad spike, and baseball bat. You find a likely looking car — be it a model you used to own, or a fancier model that reminds you of class war, or really anything that still has windows, and you Steve Harrington that sonofabitch.
Although, the rage room was probably a little easier to factor on time. Ours was generally over when you heard dogs.
Making my way back to the hostel, I was delighted to run across this little bit of home:
I haven’t seen that written in a bathroom for like three weeks! I was worried people had decided that perhaps not Fuck Trump.
In the U.S., we have a very limited understanding of how Europe things of us. They don’t hate hate us. France might, I don’t know, I haven’t been there. Most people I’ve met have seemed to admire us for our bullshit omnipresent pop culture and begrudgingly acknowledge us as sort of de facto boss of the Western world (Europeans make reference to the president as “Leader of the Free World” way more often than any of us do, especially in light of recent events).
And while some will ask me, “So how did Trump… happen?” or “Are there really nazis there?”or “Do you really not use the metros?”, there is one thing they’re guaranteed to ask about as soon as they find out I’m American.
“So why don’t you eat real food?”
Listen. We’re not consulted on it, all right? This is just what they give us. Ya’ll have McDonaldses too, we just have them everywhere, and while you have healthful traditional foods to fall back on, we have, what, hamburgers? Apple pie? Fried chicken? We were damned from the get-go and it’s a miracle I’m not 300 lbs.
“Are you all like, really fat in America?”
“What’re you tryna say?”
“No, not like, you! But like, other Americans?”
“Yes. In America, literally every single person looks like this. I did too, before I lost 10 kilos in Spain, living off tapas.”
And they’ll nod in pity and turn around and eat a foot-long sandwich with fries on top of a chicken breast that’d been sitting in grease all day. Go figure.
November 13, 2017. Athens, Greece.
I had this master plan to do a day trip to Delphi, see where the Oracle was. She’s a major player in the Grecian narrative. Socrates, Oedipus, the ruling council and occasional tyrant of Athens all held her in high esteem. She was even in 300, although I imagine she was less naked and surrounded by fewer lepers.
Unfortunately, everything that could have prevented this from happening, did. I’m sure I’ve mentioned Athena is my patron deity; I reckon she heard my plans to skip Athens, however temporarily, and sought terrible revenge.
I packed all my stuff and staggered into the streets of Athens. It’s 9:20 now. The bus leaves at 10:30. It’s a 45 minute walk to the bus station. It’s possible. It could be done. Hauling all my earthly possessions on my back, I double-time it out of tourist/academic Athens and into sketchy metropolitan Athens. I nearly got hit by only 3 cars, which is low.
When I got to the bus station, my headphones imploded for no reason, but I didn’t have time to fix that. I had to find this bus. The bu sport is enormous and filthy, everything’s written in Greek, it’s got a real cyberpunk defunct space station feel to it. I track down the information desk with 10 minutes to spare and the woman says, “It is at other bus station. Here is address.”
She hands me an address in primarily Greek, although it says 260 Liossion on it. I start toward the direction she pointed, fighting with Google Maps, which is insistent that address doesn’t exist.
Half a mile later it is revealed that the phantom bus station is at 216 Liosion, which was a mile away from where the Greek bus service website initially sent me.
And then the sky opened.
Since I obviously missed the 10:30 bus, I had to catch the next one, at 3. Only 4 hours to kill! Maybe I could write! Unfortunately, all I’d seen in the past hour were weird, specialized blanket stores, auto repair shops, and one supermarket.
Since all my worldly possessions are on my back and the tiny, sad umbrella is jammed about halfway down. I needed cover and I needed it fast.
An entire nursing home worth of old men were gathered on the porch of what looked like a coffee shop. I dodged into there, ordered a coffee (the old men are all drinking hard liquor) and reevaluated my situation.
The thunderstorm lasts most of the afternoon, from what I can tell. I can still catch the 3 PM to Delphi, but it would cost about $15 either way. There are no hostels in Delphi right now, only seedy hotels. Nearly all of them are sold out. I could reserve a $45 room for the night, if I acted right then and there.
I did the math. $75 total for about 8 waking hours in the city during a thunderstorm, since I’d have to get back to Athens the next day. I’m not spending another $45 on a room. $100 is like, a full week of Bastard Travel, depending on the locale.
All right. Delphi’s a no-go. I’ll spend another day in Athens. Not a big deal, I love Athens, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the traditional Greek food that is so good I almost cry. Last night, I discovered that they make pies out of spinach and cheese. Pies! Out of spinach dip! This is why they authored civilization.
The Olds point at me forebodingly, shaking their grey, drunk heads and saying things in Greek. The woman behind the counter translates, or possibly just offers her own advice.
“You shouldn’t go out yet,” she said, gesturing at Athena’s soggy wrath. “It is too heavy.”
“Yeah,” I said, “It’s kind of looking that way.”
“Maybe it will stop soon?” she said with a shrug. “You stay, sit.”
I stayed. I sat.
It’s dying down now, so I might start the 2-mile charge back to the hostel. Guess I’m booking another night. At least they have a rooftop bar, though I’m pretty sure they’re watering the beer. Fortunately, last night, I found a hidden alley liquor shop, and an old man sold me a sketchy 6 Euro bottle of homemade moonshine ouzo, and I barely survived two shots of it.
Tonight, maybe we’ll go for broke. Wish me luck.
November 11, 2017. Athens, Greece.
Maybe it was the quantity of illegible Greek beer. Maybe it was the free ouzo shots the bartender gave me. Maybe it was simple proximity to Ivan’s all-encompassing aura of doom, but when I woke up the next day, I felt ready to die. I tried to correct it in a novel and inadvisable way that involves eating no food, drinking fruit juice (the only words on the bottle in English are 10 FRUITS!), and grumbling.
I bummed around and moaned at nothing until a human entered the room and I had to put on a sociable face. She was a Norwegian, her own face too expressive to properly hide the constant undercurrent of anxiety, on holiday from finishing up marine biology school and putting off her thesis for as long as possible. I told her I just did that same thing for like 9 months, only without the zooplankton. Her Norwegian doctor friend was supposed to be coming in later, so she had some time to kill. Where I’m from, if you have free time, that’s time for eggs. We went and got Greek omelettes and carried on being bitter about academia.
Full of eggs and heavily salted cheese, I was ready to face the day. I really talked up Handle Row. We went poking around the flea market for it, but it was daytime and I wasn’t drunk, so Handle Row ceased to be. I think it’s a Narnia situation, and I wasn’t in the prerequisite state of mind to find the portal into the handle district.
We wove back and forth through the grotesque density of humans, poking around the flea market for, realistically, junk.
“In most places, you have certain areas that sell certain things,” she said, looking around at the chaos.
“Like Handle Row,” I said, advertising it again. I should really be receiving promotional fees from the Grecian Handlier Guild.
“Yes, maybe,” she said. “But here, they just sell everything at random. Hardware store, t-shirt shop, fish market, postcards — Oh! I need postcards!”
“The beauty of commerce. This part of Athens is basically just a giant junk drawer.”
She found a handful of dated looking postcards featuring topless blonde women, studied them contemplatively. They looked very 80’s magazine to me, like you’d find in the centerfold of a distressingly sticky publication with a name like “Buxom Beauties” or incorporating the word “Vixen”. It reminded me of the postcards my grandfather used to keep on the cork board on his door.
“Where are the naked men?” she demanded of the merchant.
“What?” he said, understandably.
“These postcards are only naked women. I need ones with naked men. Fat and old, preferably.”
He looked uncertainly from side to side, glanced at me for help. I shrugged. Out of my depth, kiddo.
“N…no,” he said. “All postcards, here.”
“Well that’s not very egalitarian, is it,” she said, reproachful and British (which, upon second reading, seems redundant).
“You’re not in Scandinavia anymore,” I told her.
okay, real quick. this blew my mind. who made this decision?
“when you think good indian food, think Gandhi, for some reason”
“Hungry? yeah, so was Gandhi *jingle*”
“Daily specials: Nothing”
“Please have the exact change you want to see in the world”
I’d been trying to outpace the winter, but it was getting too damn cold at night and I only brought one grey sweater, which is, judging by my attempt at club entry, the incorrect color for Greece. I bought a tasteful, water-damaged leather jacket for less than the cost of all those meat sticks yesterday.
It was around then the Norwegian revealed to me her True Name. To maintain the high standard of my anonymous and marginally racist (ethnicist?) system of nomenclature, I won’t print it here, but I will say that it is exactly one syllable from being Torbjorn.
I was jubilant, though I couldn’t rightly explain to her why. All my attempts at pronouncing her name were ill-fated, because my mouth so badly wanted to say Torbjorn.
When we got back to the room, the bathroom door was torn off its hinges. There was only witness: the Russian girl who hadn’t moved from the bed next to me in three days.
“What happened?” I asked. She gesticulated frantically, saying words in Russian. After that didn’t work for a while, she pulled up a translator app and showed me a paragraph that also didn’t tell me anything.
From what I gleaned from context clues, she came in from somewhere (I’ve never seen her leave) and discovered the bathroom door was wrecked. Not only was it off its hinges, the latch, which was the only thing that closed it, had been torn clean off the door and stolen. A few of the luggages had been opened and rifled through, as well. All of my stuff was in my locker, and when I checked, the combination dials had been switched around like someone had tried, unsuccessfully, to open it. I put the door back on its hinges and we left it to the proper authorities, whom would obviously never be notified because our building in the hostel looked sort of like a crack den.
We retired to the terrace and met up with Norway’s friend (henceforth, Norway 2) and a bunch of regulars from the past few nights. Canada and Austria were both up there.
“You made the right move, bailing when you did,” Austria said.
“Did you wind up getting into the club?”
They traded a look.
“We did,” Canada said. “The one that looks like the Chinese food place.”
“Wait, what?” Norways 1 and 2 busted in.
“To the untrained eye,” I said, “The club looked like a ritzy Chinese food restaurant. Except, with robots out front.”
“What are you talking about?” Canada asked.
“The… the robots, man. The guys on stilts, wearing the light-up aprons.”
“I didn’t see any robots.”
Did I hallucinate them? What’s happening to me?
“Oh, I remember,” Austria said. “With the blinking lights, yes.”
“No idea,” Canada said, shaking his head.
“How could you possibly… here, hold on,” I said, pulling up the video and reaffirming my sanity for at least the moment. “How could you miss them?”
“There was a lot of beer,” he said, and I had to concede that point. “Anyways, we paid the 10 Euro to get into the club, and it turned out to really not be our scene. Like, at all.”
“There were all these businessmen,” Austria said, “Everyone was wearing suits and drinking cocktails. No one was dancing.”
“And we’re standing there like this,” Canada said, motioning to his jeans and track jacket. “We had our free drink and left.”
“Ouch. Well, at least you didn’t have to deal with Ivan.”
“Who is Ivan?” Norway 1 (almost-Torbjorn) asked, and I warned them to stay far, far away from Lohan.
“He’s a Russian assassin who moonlights as a bouncer,” I said, like I was submitting for the approval of the Midnight Society. “He’s three meters tall, nearly 150 kilos of solid rage. He looks like a shaved gorilla. To look upon him is to know despair.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s a teddy bear.”
“He’s three-quarters bear.”
“Hmmm! I wonder if he has a sister?”
“He ate his sister in the womb.”
“Or killed her when they were kids, definitely,” Canada put in.
“If there was a well, his sister definitely went down it,” I said.
“I think I’d like to meet this man,” Norway 1 said.
“Don’t,” I warned. “You’ll never be the same.”
“Are you going to have nightmares about Ivan now?” Norway 2 asked me.
“My life is a waking nightmare about Ivan. Listen. If you hear soft weeping coming from my bed tonight, you’ll know that’s why.”
A couple from Pakistan merged into the conversation, talking about eating goat balls. He said they were pretty good. We had a quick food discussion, whereupon I horrified everyone (especially the near-Vegan Norway 2) with tales of chicken-fried steak.
“Wait, so you… you wrap the steak… in chicken, or?”
“No, chicken isn’t actually involved,” I said. “You take a steak that isn’t good enough to be eaten as a steak, and you bread it like it’s fried chicken, and then you fry it. Then, you cover it with this thick white sausage gravy. You eat it with mashed potatoes, or with eggs, for breakfast.”
“For BREAKFAST?” Norway 2 was outraged.
“Americans have very fatty breakfasts,” Norway 1 said. “I’d love it, though. So satisfying. Even when it’s just the egg, and the sausage, the bacon, you know.”
Norway 2 made a face. You know the face.
“What’s sausage gravy?” the Pakistani dude asked.
“Fat,” I said. “It’s pure fat. It’s white, peppery cream with sausage drippings in it. It’s absolutely disgusting.”
I looked wistfully out the window.
“God, I miss it.”
“Y’know, when I was in Morocco,” Canada said conspiratorially, “One of the things on the menu was bull penis.”
“Bullpens?” Norway 2 asked.
She made the face again, only with wider eyes this time.
“Did you get it?” Norway 1 asked.
“No way,” he said. “Not a chance.”
“Come on, dude,” I said. “You weren’t even curious?”
“I’m not putting any kind of penis in my mouth.”
“Maybe it’s great, though,” I said. “That would be rough, I think. If it wound up being like, your favorite food.”
“It wouldn’t be my favorite food.”
“You could just try it,” Norway 1 said. “You wouldn’t need to eat it all.”
“Yeah, just a little,” I said, nodding. “Just the tip.”
Canada wasn’t budging on this one. Masculinity is a prison.
We closed the bar out and returned to our rooms. In my restless dreams, Ivan stared coldly from the haze with the flat, dead eyes of a goat, LED stilt-gundams flailing behind him, highlighting his malevolence with their unnatural gyrations.
November 10, 2017. Athens, Greece.
I headed out to the google-recommended Syntagma square to see what it was. Turns out, it’s a little quasipark in front of a municipal building, which is not the Platonian ideal of “sightseeing”, but there was a decently sized hunger strike going on.
A local told me that the strikers are Syrian refugees who have become disconnected from their families traveling across Europe, since there are so few countries willing to accept refugees. They want the Greek government to… find them, somehow. Talk to the other European nations, track down, and reunite the refugee families.
Obviously, the Greek government said “That doesn’t even approach being our responsibility dude and also, how?” so they’ve been hunger striking for a week and a half in central Athens.
After telling me this, ironically, she recommended me some excellent local restaurants.
I hustled off to the remaining ruins in central Athens, Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus:
Nice ruins, if you’re into that sort of thing. I also went to the Acropolis museum, which did not permit pictures. I took one anyway but my phone deleted it. Welp.
(imagine a picture of a sculpture from the Acropolis’ relief of the Gigantomachy, where Athena squadded up with a bunch of Nikes and made an afternoon of whooping rebellious giant ass. the picture was of a giant trying to climb back to his feet, li’l giant ding-a-ling fully visible. caption: “dont look so giant to me”)
Angling on down to the recommended restaurant (which was written entirely in deep Greek and I didn’t have a shot in hell of comprehending, let alone pronouncing), I stumbled onto this gem:
With the lamp and everything! I don’t know about you, but when I think fine dining, my mind goes right to the dude who liked to whack off in the marketplace.
I’ve been eating well in Greece, better than in Italy, far better in Madrid, but nothing could’ve prepared me for this.
I didn’t even know there WERE that many meats, let alone that you could put them all on sticks. It was incredible. That pile of tomatoes is alleged to be a “Greek salad”, which I suppose I can be on board with. Lettuce is a waste of time. What I could not comprehend was how the tzatziki was spicy.
Despite my racial handicap, I like spicy food a lot, but tzatziki is just cucumbers and yogurt. What did you do? How did you do it? Tell me.
I toured, I excursed, I fed, and it was almost happy hour at the hostel. I called it a day and headed back to prepare for the night.
On the roof I struck up a conversation with an Aussie lady who was a little older than me and much more sophisticated than the lads I’d met the previous night. She was in town for a pool tournament that I’m pretty sure she won. She had heard of shoeys, but found them disgusting. Right there with ya, mate. Hoodies are jumpas and emo was never big in Australia.
The cast and crew from the previous night puttered out onto the roof, along with the four Australian kids.
“If it isn’t the ghost squad!” I shamed them.
“Right, sorry mate,” they said unconvincingly, “We were ganna go for a walkabout but we just passed roight out.”
C’est la vie. Nine of us around the table passed happy hour comparing cultures and travel stories, then made plans to reconvene on the roof terrace at 10.
“All roight lads,” one of the australian kids said, “Let’s go to the store, get some pay-sta for dinna. We’ll meet you back up here at 10.”
“I’ll hold my breath,” I promised, perhaps a lil peevishly.
The Australian girl did not care for them. The word drongo may have been used. Also, bogan. They’re deeply contextual terms, but they didn’t seem affectionate.
She was fun, but we lost her before our vaguely defined plans to “find a club”. It was four of us now: me, the Austrian artist, a dude from Wisconsin, and a Canadian bro hellbent on crushing beers wherever they may hide.
The bouncer at the club was the first man I’d met in Europe who frightened me. He was discernibly Russian, had killed people recently, and there was no way his name wasn’t Ivan. He was an older guy with a neck like a bull, a shaved head, and bulging, rolling, crazy eyes.
“All right, I have 2 free tickets to get in,” said Wisconsin. “It’s 10 euros admission, so if we all pool up, it’s only 5 each.”
“Drinks are gonna be crazy expensive in there,” Austria said. “They always are in these dance clubs.”
“Yeah, but look at these girls!” Canada said. I did. They looked like almost all the girls I’d seen in Athens, which is to say, slight, dressed in black, purple lipstick, smoking cigarettes. I realized I was the only person wearing grey.
Wisconsin approached Ivan, told him about his free tickets. Ivan considered tearing his head from his shoulders and hurling it to Crete, then said, “Needink girls.”
“Men pay unless come with girls,” he said, with finality.
My hustle sense started going crazy.
“All right,” said Canada, “Let’s go across the street, crush some beers, then find some girls to help us get in.”
I surveyed the crowd in line again. It would be possible, for like… two of us. Four rogue foreign dudes trying to skive their way into a trendy club for free, not even speaking the language? I didn’t love our odds.
While beers were crushed, I ordered a currywurst at a skeevy hot dog vendor. They gave me a hot dog sliced into disks with curry ketchup and limp french fries. Any port in a storm. I ate them with fond remembrance of the giant meat-stick platter I had put down six or seven hours before.
The boys asked the girls in the traditional American way: direct, civil, transactional. We looked like beggars. I cranked up the charming smile to 75% wattage and made a cluster of Grecian goth girls giggle, recounting how the terrifying man at the door gave us a provisional No Boys Allowed.
“We are waiting for someones, but they may not come,” they said. “If they do not come we will go with you.”
Well, there were two of them. Mathematically, that could’ve panned out, but it was obvious Ivan had no interest in acknowledging Wisconsin’s free tickets, or anything else beyond arterial spray.
“There are other clubs,” I said. “A block down the street. Let’s try that.”
We approached one that, to the undiscerning eye, looked like a ritzy Japanese restaurant. In the line, there were robots.
I suggested maybe one of the girls could get Daft Punk into the club. Meanwhile, Canada was hard at work ingratiating himself to one of the bartenders who was on his smoke break. He made us an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime offer: If we buy a 150 Euro bottle of liquor, we can get in for free.
“You figure, you’d be going in, and then buying like, what, five beers anyway…” Canada rationalized. It was getting too distasteful for me.
“Gentlemen, listen,” I said. “I think we should just go to a bar.”
“But the girls!”
“There are girls literally everywhere,” I said with an expansive hand gesture. “They’re more than half the population. There are beautiful women in bars, in parks, in the grocery store. This feels like a scam.”
The robot danced and flashed behind me, as if emphasizing my point.
The bartender returned like a particularly skilled fisherman that sensed his catch was about to slip the hook.
“Just tell them my name,” he said. “They will let you through, say I sent you.”
We thanked him and approached the bouncer, said the magic word.
“Who?” the bouncer said. I laughed, but nobody else thought it was funny.
“The bartender. He was just out here on break, he told us you’d let us in.”
The bouncer considered, then waved us through to the roped off front desk, whereupon a beautiful Asian girl leaned over the counter and said, “10 Euros each, please.”
“I’m out, fellas,” I said. “Hate to poop the party, but I was really only looking for one drink anyway. I’ll see y’all back at the hostel.”
I crossed the street to talk to a girl we had spoken to previously in front of the cigarette kiosk, who had originally suggested “Just go find girls! There are girls in every line and there are many clubs.”
“Hey, real quick,” I asked. “You’re working out here every night, right? You know these clubs?”
“Are we trying to find girls for the opportunity to pay 10 Euros? Like, you find a girl, then you pay 10 Euros anyway?”
“No,” she said, looking puzzled. “You go in free with girls. 10 Euros for boys. But I don’t know this club well, it is new.”
“That’s what I figured. Good night.”
I headed back to the hostel and slept like a rock until the middle aged Asian man in the corner bunk had to scream into his cell phone at 6 AM in the bathroom.
The whole gendered dance club scene strikes me as desperate. If you’re the kind of dude who’s about to pay $30-$50 for the opportunity to look at, not talk to, and maybe hook up with women, cut out the middleman and go to central Madrid.
Welp, that’s enough for one morning. Time to go exploring. Find some souvlaki to wash the bad taste out of my mouth.