Book Review: The Trouble with Peace

The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Presumably, the titular trouble with peace is its long-term untenability, and how goddamn treacherous everyone is.

A surprising number of loose ends got wrapped up in this one, which sets the stage of the third book in the trilogy focusing more on the labor disputes and the rise of the first real challengers to Bayaz’s power, the unwashed masses and their predilection for smashing the hell out of everything. As appealing as the Judge subplot is, and as entertaining as are the attempts at stick-and-poke anarchy made by all the dislocated skilled workers made irrelevant by the shiny new deathtrap machines, they don’t have anything that can challenge Bayaz’ pet demigod. No amount of rabble, no matter how roused, can overwhelm an Eater. They’ll just get ate.

On one hand, I can recognize the point of the allegory. Unmaking the foundation of society is supposed to seem like a pipe dream, no matter how broken the society might be. Bayaz is an institution unto himself, an immortal watchmaker who set the clockwork of the empire to spinning centuries ago and stops in every now and then to tune it up and sneer at the little people so they know just how superior he is. He has failsafes upon failsafes. It’s supposed to be impossible for young, morally upright idealists to try to effect change. You don’t need to be a poli sci professor to see the parallels.

But on the other, it’s a little dissatisfying. (This is the closest I have to criticism, this book is a masterpiece.) You want to root for the underdog, but the underdog is too realistic. We see the looters and rioters, warts and all, and though their cause is just, they’re nothing but warts. There’s not much character development in the Breakers and Burners, which was a deliberate stylistic choice to maintain the air of mystery around the organization. Consequently, the only things we see are them acting like animals, pillaging and raping and burning their way through the cities that have been grinding them further and further beneath their heel over the past 30 years (longer if you disregard the sudden-onset Industrial Revolution and think about the lot of the smallfolk under aristocratic feudalism).

In the third-person omniscient provided by all these perspective hops, the reader can recognize that the politics of the Empire are a Machiavellian nightmare, and the North is nothing but tribalist feuding, as the North has always been. You want to root for the peasants. You want the system to be burnt down. But the peasants are just so grotesque and fairytale-goblinoid evil that you can’t sympathize with them. Brod is okay, but only because he’s surrogate Logen, and even he can’t decide whether the uprising is the move.

All of this to say the revolution is the backdrop, with the main focal point of the story being the relationships between the main characters. I don’t want to go into it and risk spoiling anything, but it’s gripping. I can’t wait until the next one.

And Abercrombie can be relied on to pump out the next one before I die of old age. Unlike certain contemporaries I could and will name: George R.R. Marten, Patty Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch, for starters. It must be real embarrassing to be those bums, watching Joe Abercrombie, the new and unrivaled king of grimdark, just churn up an entire new trilogy in the 10-year silent expanses of time between each of their individual volumes.



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Book Review: The Player of Games

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Imagine, if you will, a world where gamers were not the most oppressed minority. Imagine instead that they were respected as world-class academics, if academics were worthy of respect. Further imagine that they live in a fully automated luxury gay space communism where every facet of their life is provided for by sassy robot nannies.

This is the Culture. And the best gamer in the galaxy, the Jocker himself, is named Jernau Morat Gurgeh.

Gurgeh only plays real time strategy games. He is the best. He writes dissertations and research papers on how to most effectively perform a zerg rush, or proper tower defense positionings. The Culture eats that shit up. Gurgeh is a rock star, sponsored by both Space Doritos and Future Dew. The androgynous men want to be him, the androgynous women want to be with him, and vice versa.

One day, Gurgeh is pitted against a literal little girl and he realizes he can beat her so bad that he might be able to perform “the perfect web”, which is when you absolutely dunk on a 9-year-old girl in Civilization IV on national television. An insane battle droid named Mawhrin-Skel who was rejected from the battle droids for being insane tells Gurgeh that he’s already run the numbers, and he can show Gurgeh how to do the perfect web. It’s only kind of cheating. Don’t be a wuss. Gurgeh agrees because he’s an asshole.

Not only does the insane battle droid’s strategy not secure him the perfect web, the robot then blackmails him with a recording of Gurgeh’s agreement to cheat in order to trounce this “prodigy” (still very much a 9-year-old girl). Mawhrin-Skel wants to get back into the battle droids, and he wants Gurgeh to do that, somehow.

Gurgeh has no formal rank. He has no sway in the galactic government, and no control over where drones are deployed. His job title is “gamer”. But, rock and a hard place. What’s a gamer to do? He says he’ll try.

A ways down the line, a government droid comes from the government to invite Gurgeh to play a new, incredibly complex game in the empire of Azad. Gurgeh agrees, contingent on the government droid returning Mawhrin-Skel’s previous position to him. The government droid says he probably can’t but he’ll try.

Gurgeh is loaded onto a spaceship and spends two years learning to play the game, which is also called Azad. Azad permeates every facet of life for the warlike, totalitarian empire of Azad, and their stupid fascist children are taught it from the moment they hatch or crawl out of the Apexes or whatever. There are three genders on Azad: males (boring, vanilla, essentially worker drones), Apexes (the ruling illuminati elite, reversible vagina and ovum), and females (uterus and retrovirus for slight modification of the egg once implanted by Apexes). Only the Apexes are allowed to do anything. The other two genders are beaten down from beginning to end of book.

Gurgeh isn’t as effected as he probably should be by the horrors of the empire, their cultural domination/sadism boner, or the torturous slavery lived in by the overwhelming majority of the species, and all the species they’ve conquered and subjugated. You’d think he’d be doubly effected, being from Bernie Sanders’ Starfleet utopia. Gurgeh doesn’t care about anything but gaming. He’s here for one reason: to play Magic the Gathering.

Thing is, Magic the Gathering isn’t just a game on Azad. The species themselves, the whole of the empire, are an obvious stand-in for a theoretical future in which Germany won WWII. They’re a pure fascism, they have propagandists and a gestapo, the whole of their society is held together by pursuit of further conquest and elevation of the ruling elite Apexes. Most things are illegal, but those illegal things are still purchasable, and more sought after for it. There are three layers of taboo pornography permeating the planet, communicated through secret channels and only for those who can pay:

Level 1 is generic smut, banging for banging’s sake.
Level 2 is humiliation porn, where the banging is secondary to the domination of the passive party/parties.
Level 3 is torture and snuff porn.

Gurgeh is exposed to this by a chiding shrew of a robot named Flere-Imsaho, sent to help grease the political wheels and avoid an intergalactic incident. Ostensibly, Gurgeh is supposed to play the game lose quickly, and demonstrate to the roving space viking Azad empire that the Culture is a joke unworthy of their time and warships.

But Gurgeh breaks out his Blue control deck and starts stacking those Ws. Victory royale after victory royale, there’s no stopping the boy. The Azadis recognize that things are going less than ideally and attempt to assassinate him a few times, but he is saved by his human contact on the planet, Culture ambassador and drunken HST analogue Shohobohaum Za.

Za is the best character in the book.

Gurgeh knows that the stakes are for real, and that the way Azad’s political system works is governed entirely by success in this game, which takes a lifetime to learn. The emperor is chosen based on who wins the planet wide tournament. Gurgeh, who has learned this game in two years, is absolutely spanking his way through all of the established pro-Azad players in the empire: priests, judges, bureaucrats, high-ranking politicians; even when they conspire together against him, they wind up activating his Trap card. Gurgeh sweeps the boards and sets up a head-to-head against Emperor Nikasar himself.

Once it becomes apparent that he also whooped Nikisar, and all of the space-Nazi dullards are also able to see it, they break for the day and Nikisar comes to visit him in his chambers. Gurgeh is like “golly, this is such a pretty and fun game we’re playing, and a good time between friends.” Nikisar beats the shit out of him and leaves.

Gurgeh goes into the next day’s session all lumped up and proceeds to noscope Nikisar in front of the entire galaxy. Right before he administers the killing blow, Nikisar has his foot soldiers sweep in and start murdering everyone in the room. Nikisar himself tries to kill Gurgeh with a sword. Gurgeh calls upon all of the combat training he never had because he lives in paradise to kangaroo-kick the Nazi emperor in the tummy, fall on the ground, then skitter across the burning wreckage until Flere-Imsaho shows up, activates his Deus Ex Machina protocol, and creates a mirror shield around Gurgeh, deflecting Nikisar’s laser pistol shot right back into his own domepiece and toppling the entirety of the Nazi space hierarchy.

Gurgeh returns home, where his girlfriend Yay tells him she transitioned to a dude for a couple years but now she’s transitioning back. They bang it out but Gurgeh is still melancholy because the horrible space empire collapsed and now he’ll never get to play Magic the Gathering again, which had become his favorite game.

In the end the narrator reveals itself to be the crazy battle droid, who disguised himself as Flere-Imsaho after manipulating Gurgeh into going to Azad in the first place for Special Circumstances, which is like the Culture’s version of the CIA.

I have a rule where if a book doesn’t have me hooked by 25% of the way in, I quit and never look back. This book very nearly missed the mark. It didn’t get good until after he went to Azad, around halfway through the book; the setup was sluggish, uninteresting, and droning. The first 100 pages could have just been the words “Gurgeh was very good at board games” and the story wouldn’t have suffered for it.

Four stars for that experience, but still an excellent read. I might make my way back into the Culture series, but not right this second.



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Book Review: Future Primitive and Other Essays

Future Primitive: And Other EssaysFuture Primitive: And Other Essays by John Zerzan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The issue with reading anarchist literature is that they’re laboring under the delusion that if their argument is sufficiently complex, they’ll win hearts and minds. Thing is, your reader’s heart and mind is already won, by virtue of their voluntarily choosing to read your impenetrable wall of jargon-heavy anarchist philosophical rhetoric.

It was engaging enough, for what it was, and brief. Future Primitive was the by now familiar call to abandon civilization and return to the shrub because the internet makes you stupid and alienated, which it absolutely does.

Hey. Hey, look at me. It does. It’s making you worse, right now.

The Mass Psychology of Misery is Zerzan saying all therapists are cops, and ACAB. That might be an oversimplification, but someone had better. He says psychology as we know it and psychiatry in particular is a tool for trying to make people forget their misery, and the misery itself is brought on by the absurd, abnormal conditions of data overload and treadmill consumerism that are supposed to constitute modern life. In this way, shrinks are distractions, like drugs, both street and prescription, like Netflix, to make you forget that you’re living directly counter to the nature you’ve been programmed for. He keeps trying to argue with Freud despite the fact that Freud essentially agrees that civilization took perfectly good monkeys and fucked ’em all up, hence the eponymous discontents. But Freud is on psych’s side, for better or worse, and who better to champion tribalism than an advocate for a return to the tribe?

Tonality and the Totality was a screed in opposition of music that sounds good, as it sounds good for following a tonal pattern and the tonal pattern represents the interests of the elite. Or something adjacent to that. It sounded like a defense of bad punk music, but then he called out punk music right at the end for not being anarchist enough! There’s just no pleasing some people.

The Catastrophe of Post-Modernism is right on the money in saying postmodernists are a bunch of sketchy chameleon dickheads who play irritating language and symbol games in an effort to avoid confronting the reality of human emotion. It wasn’t hugely comprehensible, but you can’t write about postmodernism and be comprehensible, so I don’t hold that against him. He’s fighting the good fight, if only with the sticks and stones of his preferred collective.

The bits and pieces from the Nihilist’s Dictionary were a little too propagandistic for my tastes, but the effort, and any nod to Bierce, is always appreciated.

It was a good book, but the arguments felt kind of lateral, suggestive without directly suggesting anything. But then, if Zerzan was buds with Kaczynski, I guess that would make sense.

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Hidden in the Moors

August 12, 2018. Brookline, New Hampshire.

I was drinking the terrible, watery coffee and eating the terrible, watery waffles in the hotel lobby, carboloading for the art gallery we had slated today. Allegedly, they had early Monets. The TV was too loud, so I had no choice but to hear every detail of developing vandal scandal wherein somebody hit Donnie Trump’s walk of fame star with a pickaxe.

Obviously, I chortled. Who didn’t? My mirth enraged a squadron of portly dads, who proceeded to talk too loud about “these goddamn Democrats”, presumably for my benefit. I do have big black glasses and a beard. You couldn’t blame them for jumping to conclusions. After they didn’t point directly at me to tell me what was wrong with my generation, they quieted down and proceeded into some light racism.

The news then heel-face turned into a story about the New Hampshire Food Truck festival that was taking place a mere 15 minutes from my very table. Well, that settled it. To Hell with Monet. Life is the true art.

The Girl eventually woke and I explained to her that culture can only be absorbed by immersion. She blinked at me blearily and said, “That’s nice.”

It was decided. We drove out to the New Hampshire Dome in Milford.

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It was an imposing structure, but the trucks weren’t in it. When you consider what the trucks are for, it makes sense to not put them indoors.

The traffic cone rope and the tiny Hampshirians in their reflective vests pointed us up the hill, into the woods. The obvious choice.

We were not prepared for what we saw.

It was around 11 AM, and the expansive selection was still setting up; the juggalo-themed art tent wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so. We made a beeline to the Indochine Pavilion.

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The critics, as you can see, were raving. The N.Y. Times called them “Good”! To maximize our food truck festivities and truly appreciate all that NH had to offer, the Girl and I decided we wouldn’t get any actual meals from these trucks. Chicken garlic on a stick are three of my favorite things, so we started there.

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it was, at very least, a three-star affair

From there we proceeded to a local breakfast favorite, the fried manicotti.

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just like mom used to fry. excuse my product placement, Asics is giving me kickbacks

And what New Hampshire foggy moor outing would be complete without the statewide signature favorite, Hot Ballz?

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a bold claim

What are hot ballz, you may ask? A reasonable question. Imagine a hush puppy. Now, instead of spicy dough, fill it with mac and cheese.

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That was about the time I had a heart attack. Bloated with cheese and grease, the Girl and I waddled back out of the moors and, unbelievably, decided our best course of action would be a hike along the Andres Institute of Art outdoor exhibit.

I liked the freaky baby head, but most of the installments looked like the little brass sculptures you find in every flea market. Not to denigrate them; that’s exactly where I found Sir Tetanus the Tintinnabulatory, and he has been a trusted friend and guardian for well over ten years.

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my mans

It started to rain in earnest, and the exhibits were not arranged in an overly user-friendly fashion. If you wanted to see them all, you’d need to take the 14 mile loop. We didn’t want to see them all.

The Girl and I bade a fond(ish) farewell to New Hampshire, and marathon drove home, pausing only to hit a Dunkin Donuts and listen to a hefty local woman scream vitriol at a teenage counter attendant over their lack of donut selection. Imagine her horror if she found outthey’re just called “Dunkin Coffee” in Europe.

And so concludes this leg of the chronicle. Now that I’m financially stable, and so firmly rooted in Philly that I occasionally say “jawn”, it’s time to begin local exploration in earnest.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Those Cheeky Devils

August 17, 2018. Bastard HQ.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled venomous travelogue to catch you up on recent events in Little Rock, Arkansas, where representatives of the Satanic Temple are presently boolin outta control.

Arkansas has been struggling with controversy surrounding the separation of church and state for a while now, if by “struggling with controversy surrounding” you mean “baffled by”. It came to a head in 2017 when they constructed a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Capitol Building in Little Rock. A gorgeous 6-foot marble dealie.

This didn’t sit too good with a dude named Michael Tate Reed, who drove his car into the monument that night.

That’s already funny enough, but it turns out Mikey wasn’t a radicalized atheist! You can tell because radicalized atheists do nothing but smoke pot and have lengthy debates in the comments on Chris Hitchens youtube videos. No, this is better; dude is a staunch Christian who believed that God called on him to destroy the monument.

The Little Rock gubmint decided this is the hill they’re gonna die on. Give up now and the devil wins, right? So they build another monument, another gorgeous 6-foot marble dealie. They’re getting criticism from all sides, but they remain strong in their conviction. This is rapidly become a crusade!

Well, you need the polarity for a good narrative conflict, especially on matters as grandiose as good versus evil. Enter the Satanic Temple, looking to be your heretic, yeaaaah.

These witchpunk son of a bitches load up their eight-and-a-half-foot Baphomet statue, ordinarily located in their cute little art gallery in Salem, Massachusetts, and cruise down to Little Rock to parade it around the Capitol and generally cause a fuss.

And what a fuss it has caused.

Here’s a couple tweets I stole:

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boolin

Sure, there’s a legitimate realpolitik interplay at work here, but I’ve met the Satanic Temple. Two years ago, I took pictures at their podium (which was forbidden, but I figured if anyone would appreciate transgressing arbitrary demonstrative propriety rules, it would be the Satanic temple). I got pictures sitting on the Baphomet statue, which will show up one day in a #tbt post.

The political aspect is theater, because, in their devotion to discord, they see politics as  cheap theater. These kids are just out there having a good time.

baphomet

Baphy represents the dichotomous nature of everything. Animal and man, male and female, above and below, you get the picture. It’s almost too appropriate to wheel him out next to the 10 Commandments monument, especially since you know these obnoxious little neo-goths are telling the religious right counterprotesters, “our monolith is bigger than yours”.

The Satanic Temple gets a bad rap because of edgy teenagers in facepaint who kill sacrifice cats or whatever, but what you’re talking about there is a perversion of Christianity. See, acknowledging a “Mr. Satan” as a spiritual entity means you’re playing the God game. To have a real Satan means you have a real Sky Dad that he’s in rebellion against, and believing in one necessarily predicates believing in the other.

If your grandma believes in angels, she must also believe in demons, but it’s best not to mention that to her.

Satanists actually believe in a sequence of decidedly libertarian (or maybe libertine) anti-commandments called the Seven Tenets. They look a little something like this:

  1. “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.”
  2. “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.”
  3. “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”
  4. “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.”
  5. “Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.”
  6. “People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and remediate any harm that may have been caused.”
  7. “Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.”

Pretty close to Buddhism, but with spookier statuary.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s kind of nice to see headlines about a “religious conflict” in the news without a bunch of explosions and corpses. And if nothing else, you got to give them points for the aesthetic.

podium

forbidden. what’re they gonna do, hex me?

All right, kids. Vaya con Dios, or Hail Satan, or Hail Eris, or namaste, or whatever the hell it is you do. Juju is juju. However you handle it, keep your mana bar full.

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

Berlin: Ich Bin Ein

December 4, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The first thing I learned was my normal strategy of walking everywhere is of no use here. Berlin is too big. It’s because there used to be too many Berlins, and once Reagan hulk-punched that wall down it became a single, titanic Berlin.

Hostels were in short supply, but I managed to get my hands on a nice $13 a night dealie right off of the Landwehr canal, called the Grand Hostel Berlin. Their delusions of grandeur didn’t stop at the name. They were under the mistaken impression they were a party hostel, and wanted this party to center around what they called the Gin Library.

Now, ordinarily, those would be great things better together, right? Peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and chocolate. Peanut butter and whatever arbitrary nutritional asceticism I’m inflicting on myself at present.

No such luck, beautiful reader. It was most assuredly a library a la Ron Burgundy, leatherbound books and rich mahogany, but it also had bar no one ever wanted to tend, obnoxious techno music that kind of disrupted the whole “library” mystique, and a fucking disco ball.

Do you know why most libraries don’t have disco balls? It’s because you need light to read.

When I entered the Gin Library, there were four people sitting around a coffee table, talking over the bad music in various accents about what their favorite types of alcohol are. Pretty standard cultured frat-boy hostel fare. The girls were middling attractive, the boys were “traveler chic” with whiteboy dreadlocks and dated facial piercings.

Laboring under the mistaken impression I could get some reading done in the library, I stood at the bar and tried to order a beer during happy hour. It didn’t work for a few minutes. I went to reception and said, “Hey, think I could get a beer?” The receptionist smiled, nodded, and shouted rapid German at no one in particular.

I went back to the bar and waited for another couple minutes, then decided the hell with it, I didn’t need one that bad, and started back to the corner seat to chip away at a reread of Stephen King’s It.

It wasn’t until then that one of the girls at the table, still squawking something about how Oh she LUVES tequila, deigned to stand up, approach the bar, and say, “Did you want a beer?”

“You work here?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure?”

She smiled, thinking I was flirting. I corrected this misconception by deliberately stiffing a service worker on a tip for the first time in my life.

Sorry baby. West Berlin’s always been a capitalism.

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I started at the Brandenburg gate, one of Germany’s most famous monuments despite its relative youth, at least by European standards. Berlin had been a defensible fort with a sequence of unpronounceable names since Germany was Prussia, but the Brandenburg gate didn’t show up until around 1790. For America, that’s all of relevant history, but for countries like Italy or England, that’s basically yesterday.

I hadn’t done a lot of Nazi-centric sightseeing because the weather is depressing enough and I like to have fun, but considering the Germanic bent my recent journeys have taken, it’s not avoidable. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe is about a block from the Brandenburg gate, rising from a concrete lot like a time-lapse cemetery. Catchy name too, huh? It’s got a beat and you can dance to it.

Concrete slabs of varying heights shoot haphazardly from the ground with no inscription, pattern, or real rhyme or reason. Some look like tombstones, some like coffins, some like tiny Brutalist skyscrapers. The architect, a dude named Eisenman, claims that the blocks are supposed to create a confusing atmosphere indicative of a highly ordered system gone wrong, then in the same breath says that the memorial has no symbolic significance. Sounds like your confusing atmosphere worked better than planned.

The designer’s contradictory Zen-koan babbling doesn’t stop visitors from their interpretations, though. Popular opinion is that entering the monument proper was isolating. The concrete absorbed the sounds of traffic and life coming from Berlin, leaving you in this cold, spooky hallway. The alienation, the echoes, and the imposing bleakness of the corridors reminded me of a slaughterhouse, but I’m not the best central tendency metric for this kind of thing.

Some people call that vague feeling of visceral unease the heebie-jeebies, or something comparably cute. I call it draggin’ ghosts, and I felt them like a physical weight on my shoulders as I walked out of that bleak little grid. At the same time, I was reining in an almost irresistible urge to jump from block to block. That was something I liked to do in graveyards when I was young, until someone saw me. Never met anyone who was thrilled about that.

I turned the corner and a giant brain-blimp shone down from a wall.

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“Oh, good,” I said aloud. Berlin’s got a reputation for art, and a lot of what I saw was pretty cool, but we’ll save that for its own post.

I turned another corner.

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agreed

I doubled back to the hostel and sat down for a while since I’d somehow managed to walk four or five miles, thanks to Berlin’s comical immensity. Der Hunger was setting in. I asked a spindly blonde receptionist where I could get some food, and she helpfully said she’d tell me in ten minutes.

She didn’t get the chance. A dude who sounded Ukrainian was scribbling a sort of city-overview to the stoner kid I mentioned yesterday and a middle-aged Japanese couple, and I eavesdropped on that until he circled the areas where “all the best restaurants are”. I leaned in, snapped a picture, and disappeared into Germany’s perpetual freezing rain.

What he meant by “all the best restaurants” was “places you could conceivably locate food”. This walk was only a mile, though, so that was… better? The street was called Bergmannstraße, it was itself about a mile long, and it had nothing but Asian food, one italian restaurant, one Mexican restaurant, and a kebab shop. I didn’t come to Germany for any of those things, but my choices rapidly became branch out or starve. I ate Indian two days in a row, from two different restaurants right next to each other. The first, called India, was bad. The second was incredible. I don’t remember the name.

There were a smattering of tourist shops along Bergmann, and one of them stopped me dead.

Now, my German is not what you would call spectacular. Any doubt about that, ask any of the Austrians or Germans I’ve befriended in my travels; they invariably mock my awful accent and I demand they answer for “feuerzeug“.

I delight in the German language because of the kindergarten way they just staple short, existing words into monstrous yet inexplicably precise Frankenwords.

You’re sick? Du bist krank. Welp, if you’re sick enough, we gotta get you to the hospital. That’s the krankhaus. How we gonna get you there? We’re gonna load you into the krankenwagen.

Absolute poetry.

In my Duolingings, I ran across the suffix –zeug, which essentially just means “stuff”. Your toy? That’s spieltzeug, literally play-stuff. How about a tool? Werkzeug. You can noodle that one out.

Then you got Fahrenzeug which means “driving stuff” and refers to a car. Uh, okay, I guess. But Feuerzeug is exactly what it sounds like, fire-stuff, and it means “a lighter”, and that makes me absolutely furious. You go TOO FAR.

German grammar is a disaster rivaled only by English grammar and their idioms are, as one would expect, deeply nonsensical and often sausage-themed. Every German I’ve encountered has argued they don’t have that many sausage-themed idioms, forcing me to point it out to them when they invariably use one within the following two hours.

These magnets, for those of you who didn’t quite catch up with the bus somehow, are word-for-word English translations of German turns of phrase. I reveled in them, grinning like an idiot in the rain for five minutes, then made the first and last legitimate souvenir purchase of my trip.

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I also encountered this gem.

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Trump halts maul. Well, it didn’t sound complimentary, but it did sound like home. The last I’d heard of the German opinion on Donnie was when the Morgenpost referred to him as… well, as thus:

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“please not the Horror-Clown!”

Well, I had to wait until I got back to the rad library party hostel to solve this particular mystery, but I giggled when I did.

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It reminded me of one’a my favorite twitter threads.

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Although, in fairness, the t-shirt’s not wrong.

That’s all I can do for today, if I type for too long WordPress’s busted-ass text editor starts flinching away from me every time I hit the enter key like a beaten puppy. Talk to you tomorrow, boys and girls.

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

Barcelona: La Ramblin’

October 28, 2017. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. 

After a meager hostel breakfast of bread and more bread, I went out to a coffee shop and settled in to do some writing.

There’s this peculiar phenomenon that affects me specifically. No matter where I am, what building, business, vehicle, or apparently country, if there’s an opportunity for screaming children to be near me, they will find a way. Within moments of setting my laptop down, a disaffected mother with two screeching children entered the cafe and sat down in the seat next to me. The children, as if on cue, immediately began to howl and practice muay thai on the legs of the table. I dipped.

After the daily happenin gettin my tippatappin in, I went wandering through the unusually calm streets in search of a laundromat.

 

Turns out, the reason nobody was in the streets is because they were all crammed in the alleys, poised to spring out as soon as I got close enough, in appropriate Halloween fashion.

 

My Spanish is still not what I would describe as fluent, but since I arrived in Barcelona I’ve become particularly adept at asking strangers “what the hell is going on?” In this case, a dude answered a little too rapidly for me to catch every word, but from what I gleaned it’s a Spanish cultural tradition of some kind, not necessarily a Catalonian one, but he’s just visiting too so he couldn’t say for sure. I tried to corroborate this in English with a clump of Brits, but their only contribution was an uncomfortable smile with no eye contact and “We have no idea what’s going on”. That was reassuring, in its way.

The laundromat was 10€ and the hostel would do the same thing for me without my having to hang around a laundromat for two hours, so I opted to suffer that hustle instead, dropped my bag off at Don Mustache and continued my explorations in earnest.

Are you familiar with the old Tolkien quote, “Not all who wander are lost”? And then this dog meme?

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I’m in a superposition of those two states any time I’m awake.

Eventually I found myself in La Rambla, where two powerfully built gentlemen with heavy African accents were very excited to see me.

“You! You smoke weed?”

“Not anymore,” I said, more or less truthfully. “At least, not here.”

“You come with us,” they said, gesturing down an alley, “We are 1 minute walk away from a coffee shop you can sit down and smoke weed!”

“Really!” I said. “Is that legal here?”

“Yes, yes!” they said, gesturing frantically toward the alley where I would be murdered. “Come on, right down here!”

“I’m good, thanks anyway,” I smiled and waved and swayed back into the bedlam.

“You’re good? I know you are good! Come smoke weed!” they shouted after me.

My compañera de viaje from the day before had said, “It is like, when I am alone, I do not trust people!” I told her, “Me either. Also, when I am together, I don’t trust people.” She thought that was funny, but I think it’s a solid philosophy. It’s well within the realm of possibility those two gentlemen saw a lone American tourist swaggering blithely down the street, front pocket of his stupid slim-fit jeans bulging with his wallet, and they thought, “I really hope we can help that guy smoke weed.”

Another block down the street, I found a heavily dreadlocked hippie sitting cross-legged on a blanket, looking like he was fighting the nod-off. He had four labelled cups in front of him, which read WEED, BEER, LSD, and Comer (FOOD). I dropped my small change in the empty acid cup and said “buena suerte, amigo.” Boul lit up like a Christmas tree.

Truth told, drugs seem kind of like overkill in Barcelona. A couple times a day I find myself pausing and double-checking that I’m awake. An alley full of clarineteers and dancing wooden giants doesn’t suddenly happen in the real world.

The elbow-to-elbow density of humans in La Rambla suddenly increased as the daily political protest took form. This time, the signs were about freeing political prisoners and “NO A LA MILITARIZACIÓN!”

Back stateside I oppose la militarización as well, but I didn’t see any reason I should oppose it in La Rambla, vocally, this close to a political upheaval. I shaded out.

Ghostfully,

The Bastard