Vienna: Phallic Fixations

November 25, 2017. Vienna, Austria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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they only serve sausages

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

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

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speaking of my college

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hoo i heard that

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

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

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

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

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

“All right, thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want?”

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

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

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

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

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welp

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

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“schnittenfahrt” tho

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

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now that’s opulence

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

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

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

“Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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heard yo mama in the movies

Love,

The Bastard

Kutná Hora: The Bone Zone

November 24, 2017. Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

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

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

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

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

bones

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that it?” they repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean, 50% more?”

“150%.”

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

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

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: Sartre Was Right

November 9, 2017. Athens, Greece.

They hid the Acropolis.

I don’t know what they stand to gain from it. I think maybe the only way they could convince people to go through the Plaka. Apparently, it’s a beautiful, idyllic village, and one of the oldest towns in the world. It seemed to me like a whole lot of lame graffiti and narrow alleys full of outgoing grifters with friendship bracelets, all of whom happened to love my Barcelona shirt and sought to vocalize that.

The Plaka is a labyrinth that might wind up saving me the trip to Crete, and what few signs exist are in Greek. I asked a tiny goth girl on the corner if this was the way to the Acropolis. Her eyes got big for a second, but then she realized I was not trying to beg for money, give her friendship bracelets, or sell her drugs, and she became very helpful.

“All roads lead to Acropolis,” she said in some of the best English I’d heard out of a local, “But I think that one over there is easiest.”

“I’ll take easiest,” I said, and did. It’s possible she was a grifter plant, and by easiest she meant “most dense with people calling you MY FRIEND, giving you garbage bracelets, explaining how hungry they are, and inviting you to an African dance festival in the square”, but unfortunate dentristy aside, she was too cute for that to be her job. She could’ve been a waitress, at very least. Especially in America. Goth chain restaurant food service workers are the sultry, emotionally damaged specters that haunt every young man’s dreams.

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I wove through the Plaka uphill, up stairs, up more hills, more stairs, small cafe owners giving me shady looks as I cut through the stairs that they somehow set up tables and chairs on. When I finally got to the top, I discovered all of the humans.

I later found out there’s an Acropolis metro stop, which is probably how all these fat old Americans beat me to the top. No one’s more confused by my aversion to obvious tourists than I am, considering it’s usually pretty obvious I’m a tourist, especially in Europe. I’m a foot and a half taller and 50 – 100 lbs heavier than everyone except the Nords, and none of them even lift. I think part of their socialism is they all decide on one guy who lifts for Scandinavia, and that guy is The Mountain.

All these little purple-lipstick hobbit women keep looking at me like I escaped a genetic engineering lab, and the international perception of Americans can’t be helping. From what I’ve gleaned in drunken hostel conversations, most Europeans and Australians seem to think America is a post-apocalyptic spaghetti western where we’re all looting in all the major cities and open-carrying AR-15s in case President Immortan Joe sends his death squad drones to Build the Wall.

As I approached the Acropolis, a one-eyed man on a Segway wearing a laminated SEGWAY TOURS sign cruised up to me and said, “You goin’ to the Acropolis?”

“Yes indeed,” I said without eye contact. I don’t want a Segway. This is a goddamn pilgrimage. You think I came around the world to irreconcilably demonstrate to Athena that I’m a li’l bitch?

“Well, you better hurry,” he said in an unexpected show of non-hustling candor. “It’s closing in an hour.”

“I thought it was open til 8.”

“They changed the hours. They start kickin’ people out at 4:40.”

Well, it was 4, so it was go time. I thanked him and charged up the hill, dodging around enormous Asian tour groups and lines of geriatric Central Americans walking 5 abreast to make sure no one could get past them. Everyone was shouting, all the time, forever.

I swung off the path a few times because it was easier to just climb the rocks than navigate the teeming sea of human vermin, paid the 10 Euro to get in, and climbed up toward the Acropolis proper.

You know in spy movies when there’s a laser grid the protagonist has to cross, so they do gymnastics and cartwheels to avoid hitting any of them? Imagine that, but with cameras and selfie sticks. No matter where you went, you were photobombing somebody, and still, they were screaming. Everyone was screaming so much at the silent hilltop archaeology temple, and making faces for the cameras like they’re in a cheap photo booth, and forcing me to hate them.

The Old Temple of Athena was devoted to Athena Hygieia, which pertained to health and medicine. This was probably my favorite part.

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The olive tree planted on the west side of the Erectheion symbolized the original olive tree that built the world as we know it.

In the ancient days, Athens was already booming, but it wasn’t called Athens. King Cecrops almost single-handedly dragged Greece into civilization, introducing ceremonial burial, marriage, and literacy to his society. It’s arguable that this was a mixed bag, but eh. After seeing all the thriving, he decided that what the city really needed was more thriving and issued an open invite to the gods to have one become the city’s protector and patron. Immediately, Athena and Poseidon both laid their claim.

Athena suggested to King Cecrops that a contest be held, and he be the judge. Now, Cecrops must have been shitting bricks, because every time the gods hold a contest someone gets turned into a cow or raped by a goose or something, but you can’t tell Athena “that’s a terrible idea” because then you will definitely be getting flayed alive every day for the rest of eternity, so the king said, “Yeah, totally. Let’s do that.”

Poseidon had it all figured out. He knew what Athens needed. He stabbed the earth with his trident and brought a flood right up to the edge of the city. The people had water, now! Poseidon brought water, what a surprise! It was really practical and convenient, right up until they discovered it was seawater and drinking it would kill them.

We can assume that Athena shook her head in disgust before presenting Cecrops with the olive tree, or rather, seeds to it.

“Plant this and wait,” she said. “You’ll see.”

Seed they did, and see they did. Olive oil became a staple for everything in Greece, in ascending order of importance: fuel, wood, shelter, food, and lube. When the trees finally grew, Cecrops faced the music and declared Athena the winner, and they just kept building her temples after that. If you read up on the mythology, Poseidon got the shaft pretty often. Probably why he was always so salty (ha haaaaa).

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The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. They still do performances here, unlike the Theater of Dionysius, which was far too ruined and roped off for me to sneak in and honor Diogenes’ memory by poopin’.

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The plague of humanity was becoming too taxing. I was getting snippy. A dude’s just trying to honor his personal patron goddess. Did I yell in your church? Well, okay, a little outside of the Basilica in the Vatican, but that wasn’t on me. God started it.

I shimmied down a hiking path to get back to center city. On the way down, I saw a scrawny girl wearing boots with 6 inch heels, trying to navigate the slippery rocks and loose gravel that made up the entirety of the hill.

“Heels to the Acropolis, huh?” I asked her. Her boyfriend was not thrilled at my casually outgoing nature, and sneered a “Yuh” at me, as though he were the one wearing heels to the Acropolis.

“Bold choice.”

She giggled. He didn’t. I slunk back into Athens and went back to the hostel to spend happy hour writing. My Greek bartender friend tried to hit me up for that 4 Euro beer because happy hour didn’t start for another 3 minutes. I gave him a dark look and said I’d wait it out. When the clock rolled over, I got two smaller beers for also 4 Euros, but it was a net gain I could abide.

Outside on the terrace, I met four excitable Australian lads. We got drunk and compared cultures, and they taught me a lexicon of Aussie slang that I knew most of because of the internet. We were joined by a guy from Michigan whose accent was, to me, more pronounced than anyone else’s, and the Austrian tagger I mentioned yesterday. You can check out his work here.

“All right, mate, let’s hash this out,” they asked me. “How in the FUCK did Trump happen?”

“Bible belt, man,” I said. “The news you see coming out of America is all left-leaning media from metropolitan areas. New York, Boston, Philly, D.C., anywhere in California. The majority of America is middle America. Impoverished, living in the boonies, voting straight Conservative every time cuz “we gotta stop that therr abortion, mm-hmm”. The left is louder, but the right is definitely more prevalent. Not to mention, more likely to vote.”

“So, like, is it that bad? Is he really gonna build the wall?”

Me and the dude from Michigan both laughed.

“No, dude. There’s no wall happening.”

“He’s a joke,” the Michiganian said. “He just goes up there, and says things. But there are people behind him in the government that have to allow him to do these things, and they don’t.”

“Right, because they’re impossible and stupid,” I said.

“I think he just says things for attention. And that keeps getting him attention, so he keeps saying it.”

“So let’s get to the kangaroo thing,” I said. “Are they like deer?”

“They’re just like deer,” they said. “They’re everywhere, and all they do is jump in front of your car and fuck it up.”

“Yeah, that’s what deer are for.”

“Down in the bush, ya go shootin’ roos. Ya shoot a lot of things in Straya, actually. The ecosystem is wrecked from all the species the Europeans introduced, so if you shoot one of the poisonous toads and bring it to the municipal, they’ll give you 8 dollas.”

“Damn.”

We drank our drinks, then I said, “I saw an odd thing, the other night, allegedly pretty common in Australia. How prevalent are shoeys?”

Immediately, they all started screaming in joy like I just said the secret word on Peewee’s Playhouse.

We hit the streets, inhaled some 2 Euro gyros, and attempted to find a bar. Instead, we found a hookah bar that claimed it was 5 Euro a hookah, but was actually 5 Euro per person smoking a hookah. That, my friends, is how they getcha. They blasted reggaeton the entire time we were there, which kind of clashes with the intended ambiance of a hookah bar in my ever humble opinion, but nobody asked me.

After that, the impetuous Australians went to buy drugs from one of the shady grifters in the square. Apparently, friendship bracelets aren’t the only thing they’re selling. They picked up 6 gs of Grecian weed for 50 Euro, and then pledged to us that they’d meet us up on the roof terrace with it. It wasn’t going to make or break my night, but we gave them a half hour and they never showed. Ghosted. Too savage. But, you know what they say: Ozzie come, ozzie go.

Off to the rest of the sights. Talk soon.

Love,

The Bastard