Book Review: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity by Ryan Holiday

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A one-a-day stoicism situation that mostly tells you to think about how you’re going to die soon. Marcy Marcus and the whole funky bunch are accounted for; Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus. It’s a real star-studded affair, and since they’re broken down into these easily digestible daily affirmations (although that doesn’t feel like the right word, given the grim content), you really get a good idea of the contrast between the different Stoic thinkers. For example, Marcus Aurelius? Deeply dour dude. The misery just seeps right out of his aphorisms.

Seneca, on the other hand? A certified chiller. Much more upbeat. Epictetus’s philosophical style is closer to bullying than anything, and Rufus could have passed for a hire-off-the-street orator.

After 365 days, I am positive that I’m going to die soon. And you know what? 2020 was the right year to read this, because at no point did I feel like soiling myself over the Fungus. Mortality is the price of living. Like Marc said, this life is on loan. And like I said, something’s got to kill me.

I just googled it and none of the stoics are quoted as having said “something’s got to kill me”. That’s a BT original. Maybe that’ll be my Stoic legacy, once I succumb to the Fungus or get cut down in a hail of police gunfire. I wouldn’t care for a headstone, as even things carved in stone aren’t carved in stone, but if I had to get one, “Something had to kill me. And did.” wouldn’t be the worst I could do.




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Istanbul, Turkey: Zen and the Eye of the Storm

November 17, 2017. Istanbul, Turkey.

When I was a hood rat fresh out of high school, all combat boots and band shirts and tongue ring, I tempered my aggro hypervigilance by one-shotting it through every Zen book that Barnes and Noble had, and shoplifting those that required further examination. We called it “heistin'”. To the untrained eye, these may seem like diametrically opposed ideals, but the beauty of Zen is its comfort with contradiction. Keep pressing me and I’ll show you the sound of one hand clapping.

When trawling the gutter got stale, I ran the gates out of my hometown like all those pop-punk singers claimed they would. Difference is, I did it. Another difference is, I’m not a statutory rapist. I got a couple degrees and a big kid job and lost all the ways I used to vent the constant high thrum of anxious madness building in my skull. The adrenaline rushes of creepin’ and heistin’ and scrappin’ and breaking everything in this room were gone. I was a goddamn therapist! And when you lose one wing, the center can’t hold. My Zen dropped away just as surely, leaving me a tension battery.

Well, now that I’m on the road and enfolded in a perpetuity of chaos, it seemed like time to get it back. One side of the scale isn’t empty anymore. Let’s balance this bitch.

Couldn’t have chosen a better place to recalibrate. Istanbul is a vortex of spastic activity.

It was a two mile walk from my hostel to the Hagia Sophia, which would compel most to take a train, but I’m inherently distrustful of trains. Especially those with timetables in a language I don’t speak. Besides, walking is still honest.

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okay good start

I made my way to the bridge that spanned the Bosphorous inlet. It was filthy with humans. Rule 1, the Slide-Up, but they were all much too distracted with the views of the river and Old City. The guardrail was lined by fishermen, all of whom seemed to be doing pretty well for themselves. The gallon jug full of fish especially blew my mind. So tidy and space efficient!

 

I was watching the fisherman drop deposit another little fish in the jug like sliding a coin into a piggy bank when I heard a familiar voice say (mercifully, in English), “Hey, what’s going on!”

My boy Canada, from the hostel back in Athens, was coming the other way across the bridge. Big continent, small world. We caught up briefly, talking about the happenings of our past few days.

“Have you tried the taxis yet?” he asked.

“I avoid them like the plague,” I said. “Haven’t used one since I got to Europe.”

“Good call. I got ripped off by one coming from the bus station. I’d been on a plane all day, then on a 2 hour bus, and I just wanted to get to my hostel, so I call a cab. I got in and he kept saying, “Traffic is bad, so we’ll take a shortcut”.  I kept telling him, “No, just take me the normal way”. Then he turns the meter on and I see it jumping up and up and up, and I say, “Forget it”, and I go to get out of the car. He starts saying he’ll give me the ride for 55 lira.”

(that’s about $14).

“So I count out my money — I have a 50 and a 5 in my hand, I looked at them — then I give it to him. He takes it, turns away, puts it in the little money pouch, then turns back and says, “Oh, you gave me two 5’s.” I said I didn’t, and then he demanded another 50, and I told him no, and he started yelling in Turkish so I said “Fuck this” and got out, walked the rest of the way. Like, you hear about it, but I’ve never had it happen to me, you know?”

“Yeah, I hear that.”

“You eat any of the food yet?” he asked.

“Naw. I drank too much beer in Greece, so I’m laying off the calories until I feel less squishy and useless.”

He shook his head. “Be careful, man. I got in and ate a doner, one of those kebab gyro things? I was fine until I woke up at 4 AM and just threw up in the hostel bathroom for like an hour.”

“Oof. I heard that kinda thing about the tap water,” I said.

“I’ve been drinking bottled. It was definitely the food. I’ve been eating McDonalds ever since. It’s not like Greece, man.”

He certainly had that right. We made plans to meet up the next day and I continued toward the capitol of three or four empires that had historically changed hands like a game of Hot Potato.

Let me say this for Old City: It is the most defensible place I’ve ever been. The hills are insanely steep, the streets ridiculously narrow. It’s difficult not to imagine how you could funnel footmen into an ambush, or trap them on unfavorable ground.

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I approached the Hagia Sophia and got an ambush of my own in the form of a cloying little Kurdish man in a used car salesman jacket. He shook my hand, told me about his family and how American half of them are, gave me a guided tour while insisting he wasn’t a tour guide and “it’s all for free!”

He would not leave me alone.

“Here, I take you to the line!” he said. He guided me toward it.

“Thanks, but I was gonna sit for a second.”

“I sit with you!” he said, and did, offering me a cigarette that I refused. His face was twisted around a central point like a Picasso painting and his cauliflower ear was badly infected. Two red flags for a career brawler. I was twenty years his junior and had fifty pounds on him, but that’s still not how I wanted to spend my afternoon.

After he told me his extended family tree and how much he loved Manhattan, he bought a ticket from a scalper with a minimum of words exchanged and rushed me through the entry line. I paid him the 40 lira to him after he pointed the price out on the sign. “See? Is 40! Is 40!”

My bullshit detector was wailing like a siren. They’re in cahoots. Why are they in cahoots?

“Very old building,” he began, scanning himself through the gate with a ticket of his own and gesturing at the Hagia Sophia. “Very old, much history. Seat of many empires!” He started rattling off numbers.

“Listen,” I said, “I don’t mean to insult you, but why are you doing all this for me?”

“Is free! I’m not a tour guide!”

“Are you sure? This seems a lot like a guided tour.”

“I have a gift shop, just down that dark sketchy alley,” he said. “Maybe after, I take you there, give you business card, maybe I sell you a scarf or some jewelry.”

“I appreciate the offer,” I said, “But I really prefer to wander on my own. Tell you what, how about you give me the address and I’ll swing by after I’m done here.”

“No, no, no!” he said. “Is fine, is fine! I go through with you, then I take you there.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “I’d like to see it alone. Why don’t you just give me a business card?”

“I don’t have them with me.”

I squinted at him.

“You don’t carry your business cards with you?”

“They are at the store. I’ll wait for you at the exit, then I show you!”

“You don’t have to do that, but sincerely, thanks for all your help. Teşekkür ederim,” I said, then ghosted into the old mosque.

It was enormous and beautiful, but much less gaudy than the places of worship I’d come to expect from my experiences in Rome and the Vatican. It felt ancient, enduring, less concerned with all the religious fripperies. It was closer to a fortress than a palace, and closer to a palace than a temple.

I took off my Wanderhut and threw a curve into my spine, pulling my shoulders down and dropping into lockstep with the tall Asian man ahead of me. I saw my friend with the checkered coat, but he didn’t see me. I got a reasonable distance away then dropped the Peter Lorre act and headed around the fountain, toward the Blue Mosque.

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I got turned away at the door by a serious looking man in a nice coat.

“My friend,” he said, and the hackles went up. “It is prayer right now, you cannot enter the mosque.”

“That’s all right,” I said.

“Perhaps you are hungry? I have a shop just around the corner, do you prefer spices or Turkish delight?”

“I’ve never had either,” I said. “Thanks anyway though, but I have to go.”

“Where are you from?”

“United States,” I said, walking away as he started to talk about his cousins in the United States.

“Where are you going!” he called after me. “I take you to my shop, free samples!”

“I’m really all right,” I yelled back. “Gotta meet somebody, thanks anyway.”

“Don’t you trust me?!”

This gave me legitimate pause. I stopped walking for a second to process this question. Granted, it was obviously a ploy intended to make me feel guilty — barking up the wrong tree on that one, bud — but more to the point, why the hell would I trust him? What reason has he given me? A punctuated summary of his fictional family tree? A limp handshake and an invitation to literally take free candy from a stranger?

“It’s not looking great,” I told him, and then faded into the crowd, bound for the Great Bazaar.

To be continued, beautiful readers.

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: Making My Escape

November 16, 2017. Athens, Greece.

I spent my last day in Athens wandering around, drinking Weißbier instead of the refreshing sparkling water that was Greek beer. I had discovered the potency of Greek wine the night previous, however, and let me just say, for 8 Euros a vase? Whoa nelly.

Outside the National Archaeological Museum, I stumbled into yet another enormous protest in a language I couldn’t understand. This time the anarcho-communists were well represented, as were some incorrigible teenagers in motorcycle helmets and facemasks who had jumped a spiked fence and were presently involved in occupying a university building.

Here’s something I’ve noticed in my years tightroping it across the fringe: If you give someone a mask, they will stare you down, 100% of the time. Doesn’t matter if it’s a gas mask, a bandanna, or Halloween. With faces concealed, balls triple in size like that scene in the Grinch.

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like this, but with the testicles and a Call of Duty LARPer

I asked my Greek correspondent on political uprisings and good restaurants what the deal was. Apparently, there’s a yearly national celebration that pertains in some way to Greek independence, though no one either could or would give me more information than that. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, there was a military coup d’état that the students protested. They were, perhaps unsurprisingly, gunned down. The junta broke in 1974 but particularly radical left-wing students have carried on a proud tradition of occupying universities, lighting things on fire, and breaking shit ever since.

(This is a gentle paraphrase of how it was described to me; I’m thinking my source might lean a bit right. That’s more common for university students in Greece than back home, for reasons you might be able to intuit.)

They were carrying around lead pipes and blasting Greek rap music out of what looked like a pretty nice guitar amp, and being the intrepid journalist I am, I decided to document the occasion.

This was not well-received.

“They were saying, ‘close your phone’,” she told me.

“Yeah, kinda figured it wasn’t a brunch invitation.”

Some local Suicide Girls were sitting on the gate in front of the occupied university quad / masquerade mosh pit, and I asked them what was going on. They looked at each other and giggled, went back and forth in Greek, then turned back to me.

“ἀναρχία,” they said, and that’s how it sounded when you heard it. It sounded enough like “anarchia” that I got the gist.

“Yeah, got that,” I said. “Me too. But like, what are they doing dancing and glaring in there?”

“Video?” one said, pointing at my phone.

“Video!” the other said excitedly.

“Probably not gonna happen again,” I said. “Already didn’t make many friends with that.”

“Video,” one said, persuasively, making a recording motion. I grinned.

“Okay, I get it. Thanks, ladies.”

I waved, they laughed again, and I got out of there before I had to fight a bunch of teenagers like that Norwegian statue, “Man Attacked by Genii”.

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you know the one

The museum was impressive, especially if you’re big into pottery. I am not, but they had a lot of statues and the crumbling remains of statues, both of which I am big into. I got lost in there for three hours, then had to scamper out to a cat-infested terrace where they fed me build-your-own gyros and carbonara.

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just how i like my women

The next morning, Athena blasted me with another thunderstorm, sensing that I was trying to get out of Athens. I’m probably one of her most vocal modern keepers of the faith, and she obviously wanted me to stay. I absolutely would have, if it were possible to make money there.

Athens is my favorite European city by far. Everything in it was beautiful. Everything in Barcelona was also beautiful, but that was a deliberate, maintained beauty. The Athenian beauty was sudden and bursting and chaotic, the difference between a conventionally cool attractiveness with expertly applied makeup and wild, unhurried naturalité, its only accentuation flashing eyes and playful snarling.

I loved Barcelona for its poise, but I’m in love with Athens for its honesty. No matter what Diogenes might have said.

Still, couldn’t stay forever. I think that hostel might have had bedbugs. Time to go. I weathered the storm, taught myself how 2 Metro, and caught a train to the airport.

On the plane, I sat behind a dude who smelled powerfully of an unwholesome cheese. Of course. Of course I did. I had every intention of writing on the 3 hour flight, but the classical conditioning I’ve instilled in myself runs too deeply and I fell asleep as soon as we got in the air, laptop open in lap, brim of doofy but essential Wanderhut pulled over my eyes.

Turbulence woke me up shortly before the landing, and I looked out the window to see a city of ghosts. Fingers of mist trailed over the barren hills like prowling animals. My plane dropped out of the sunlight and into the massive wraith cloud, and I haven’t seen pure, natural light since. When we broke through the bottom of the cloud cover, the coffee-colored hills dropped away into the Bosphorous, which is as beautiful and imposing as you may have heard. The fog on the other side opened, and the metropolis of Istanbul sprawled as far as my admittedly poor eyes could see, the peculiar architecture of the skyscrapers warping and waving like an acid trip. 

End purple prose. The airport had no Wi-Fi, which I had been warned of.

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I’d made all my plans in advance, except my plan for a visa, which I learned was a thing.

IMPORTANT: If you roll into Turkey from pretty much anywhere, they’re going to make you pay extra money to be there. It’s sort of like driving out of New Jersey, but in reverse. I took a steep 25 Euro hit (the cost of 10 pork gyros in Athens) from a guy who spoke virtually no English. Obviously, I went to the ATM and pulled out the money in lira, because this is Turkey, and that’s the radically inefficient money they use here. My pockets have been heavy and jingling with 5 and 10 cent pieces since I arrived, even though a single coffee is 7 or 8 Lira, which equates to roughly 1.60 Euros (not quite $2).

I tried to give the guy 150 Lira (25ish Euros) and he just repeated, “25 Euros.” So I had to go withdraw more money, only this time it’s a kind that I can’t spend in this country. Now I’m walking around with 75 Euros that I can’t do anything with, and of course most of it is in coins because Europe cannot get enough identical silver-and-gold coins for some reason, so my first night was trying to pay out for my toothpaste and soap from a Scrooge McDuck pile of varying but visually similar coins while the dude at the market, who speaks no English, looked on in disgusted bemusement.

Still, Istanbul is gorgeous. My hostel attendant is always on a great deal of cocaine, but it just makes him friendly. Beats the alternative.

For most of the time I’ve been writing this there was a wailed call to prayer being amplified through the streets. It’s the kind of thing I would voluntarily listen to on Pandora. Too bad I’m a heathen.

Before I forget: Jeff Homscheck correctly guessed my new location. He is the best of us, and he will be remembered as such long after this world becomes a smoking crater.

See you tomorrow, beautiful readers.

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: What Did He Mean By This?

November 14, 2017. Athens, Greece.

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por que no los tres?

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.

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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.

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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.

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RDY 2 RAGE in safety

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.

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pic incredibly related

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:

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I haven’t seen that written in a bathroom for like three weeks! I was worried people had decided that perhaps not Fuck Trump.

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j̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶g̶r̶a̶n̶d̶m̶a̶ ̶u̶s̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶e̶  nevermind, that was way grosser than i intended

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NEVER! im an american dammit

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.”

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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.

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: Emergency Update

November 14, 2017. Athens, Greece.

All over Athens, there are ambiguous signs and menu sandwich boards that say MYTHOS on them. I thought it was a restaurant I ate at. It was not. Research has revealed that it is a beer.

I learned this 3 days ago, and I’ve been searching for one since. Nobody has em. Their name is hanging up everywhere, but the beer itself is nowhere to be found. This has proven to be an amazing marketing campaign.

72 hours later, I finally found a place with both MYTHOS ads and draughts. I ponied up the 3 Euro and had one.

Imagine if Lionshead were as popular as Budweiser, but as rare as absinthe. Got more bite than Alfa, but so does tap water.

Mission… complete?

Love, 

The Bastard

Athens: Tell Herb I Slowed Down

November 13, 2017. Athens, Greece.

What are we at now? Five days in Athens? Unheard of. We’ve found the upper limit boys and ghouls, and that is one work-week in a single spot before the wanderlust starts itching like a motivated scabie. I’m in the spooky coffee shop again, all the witches recognize me, smile at me. Standard procedure with witches in my life, true enough, but this feels different. I gotta skedaddle.

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Bastard Travel Kid’s Korner: can you spot the tiny Greek witch watching me from a distance?

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caught ya

Party City cobwebs are translucent, spookycakes. Get back to work before you get maleficarum’d.

Fortunately, I’ve already got my next jaunt picked out. This episode of Bastard Travel is real interactive, because I’m not going to tell you where, but fabulous emotional prizes will be awarded to anyone who can guess.

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So let me take a second to tell you about Greek food. So far, it’s my favorite in Europe. I’ve never deliberately ordered a salad before, but I went out of my way to do so here.

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look at that feta! filthy.

Now, you might be a little confused. You might be saying, “You Bastard, you miserable fucking animal, there’s no lettuce in there. How can you call this a salad and sleep at night?” to which I would say, first of all, a little bit more aggro than necessary, and secondly, the Greeks avoid lettuce if they can get around it. When they say “Greek salad”, what they mean is pizza toppings. Tomatoes, green peppers, olives, onions, olive oil, and way too much cheese. They slip cucumbers in there to keep you from making the connection.

The other night I consumed entirely too much of that sketchy moonshine ouzo I bought in that alley and the usual hostel crew faded back to their rooms pretty early. I had the remains of a weak beer with me, so I couldn’t leave the terrace yet, but nobody was speaking English, so I tried my luck with a trio of Greek girls sitting in the corner.

“Hey!” I said, blithe as is my idiom. “Where y’all from?”

They had a brief exchange in Greek, then decided I made the cut, and deigned to tell me they were native Athenians.

“I need to know something,” I said. “I’ve been hearing mixed opinions on this. Everywhere I go, people give me feta. No matter what I order, they find a way to give me feta. And olives, usually, but listen. Do you actually eat that much feta here, or is it for the tourists?”

“Absolutely, we do eat that much feta,” the tall one said. The other two nodded in immediate agreement.

“We buy it every time we go to the store,” said the little one. “No matter what we need to buy, we will also get half a kilo of feta.”

I did bad, drunk math. It’s like a pound. Okay.

“And then it just sits in the fridge, and whenever you at anything, you put some feta on it.”

“Olives, too,” I said. “I ordered bread, they gave me like three olives in a bowl with it.”

“Well, olives are delicious.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s… we’re not arguing, here. I’m just saying, olives in a bowl are not, technically speaking, bread.”

We drank and they became increasingly candidon the state of the Greek economy. They had actual, profitable majors, which would be a rare occurrence if they were, say, three random college-aged girls at a bar in America. Computer science, mechanical engineering, and… math. They were all very glum about their chances of getting a job in Greece, and talked about wanting to escape.

“Computer science, though?” I asked the small one. “That’s money, back in the states. You’re like, guaranteed a decent job.”

“Not in Greece,” she said dourly. “If you get past the wait list, it is like 800 Euro a month.”

(That’s around $6 an hour.)

“Jesus,” I said. “Sorry I brought it up.”

“Do not be,” said the tall one, shaking her head. “It’s what we would have been talking about anyway. Just, in Greek.”

Wow, beautiful reader. I just digressed real bad there, huh. Let’s see if I can pull it back out of this depressive tailspin.

I went up the Plaka, which is the oldest village in Europe, overlooked by the Acropolis, trying to find some traditional Grecian grub. I was recommended spinach pies and meatballs. I’ve had three Spinach pies in the past two days, but all from bakeries, and all radically different. Some are like apple turnovers only instead of histamines (for me) it’s full of spinach and feta. Yesterday I had one that just looked like a normal slice of pie, but instead of filling, it contained a dense block of spinach with what tasted like pickling spices on it.

I ordered meatballs and a spinach pie, which I didn’t have the foresight to photograph. They brought me a plate full of discs of heavily spiced meat in a tomato-and-wine sauce, with peppers. I assumed they were meatballs. Then, they brought me another plate, this one full of things that were very obviously meatballs, in that they were made of meat, and shaped like balls. The medallion shape of the first course really should have given me a clue.

I ate the meatballs, staring in wonder at the empty plate that I had thought were non-balled meatballs. I’m not a gourmand, and I don’t pretend understanding of traditional Greek culture beyond a -encyclopedic knowledge of ancient mythology, but I was nearly 80% sure that contained neither spinach nor pie. But food is food, and I needed meat, and it was obviously too late to pull a “hey, this wasn’t what I ordered”. My native contact demanded I find the name. I did, but that was unhelpful, as I didn’t want to embarrass either of us with my attempt to spell it, but we concluded it was definitely sausage.

Later, I recounted this to Austria.

“It’s because you’re American,” he said. “They must have thought you were confused. ‘He ordered spinach, but I don’t think he knows what it is. Better to give him more meat.'”

“Well, I have been craving meat.”

“See? They were right.”

He left for Berlin. Getting gone seems like the thing to do. I’m going to try the Delphi day trip again tomorrow. With Athena’s consent, ideally.

Let’s wrap up with another graffiti picture dump.

See you tomorrow.

Love,

The Bastard

You Won’t Believe These Top 3 Ways to Cope with the Wrath of a Vengeful Goddess

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.

 

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“sOcRaTeS iS rEaL sMaRt”

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.

1. Flee

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.

2. Cower

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.

3. Weep

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.

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: Greek Graffiti

November 12, 2017. Athens, Greece.

Bonus post! Here’s a picture dump of cool graffiti I found around the hostel. Greece has kind of a thing for demons.

All within a couple blocks of my room. But wait, there’s more!

 

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shhh i know baby i know

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you said it bro

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or love

It’s gorgeous and weird out there, even without paying to wander the remnants of a collapsed civilization. And rest assured, it’s infinitely better (though less omnipresent) than the tags in Madrid, which a rogue Catalonian encapsulated pretty succinctly:

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See you tomorrow.

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: The Modern Agora

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.

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ready for combat operations

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.

“Obviously.”

 

 

23555203_1131367516999553_718212937_o 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.

torbjorn

whair arr the nayked men

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.”

“Right,”

“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.

“Bull penis.”

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.

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

Athens: Ruined Temples and Nights

November 10, 2017. Athens, Greece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

louie

no the other one

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

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

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

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sorry fam but these meat sticks are fuckin incredible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

My hustle sense started going crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But the girls!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

“That’s what I figured. Good night.”

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

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

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

Love,

The Bastard