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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Book Review: How the Irish Saved Civilization

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe  by Thomas Cahill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Copying books.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the boiled beef of the issue: Early Irish literature was essentially Conan the Barbarian with more dick jokes.

Noisiu, Irish warrior and protagonist, is rattling over the bogs when he runs across Derdrui, a certified hottie who is promised to some old king. Even the king’s druid has commented on her thiccness:

“High queens will ache with envy to see those lips of Parthian-red opening on her pearly teeth, and see her pure perfect body”.

Noisiu knows she’s pledged, and cursed, but he can’t help himself, and hits her with the oldest pickup line in the book:

“That’s a fine heifer going by.”

Take note, fellas.
Dedriu, not a swooner, fires back:
“As well it might be. The heifers grow big where there are no bulls.”

You called her a cow and she’s still game! Better seal the deal, Noisiu.
“You have the bull of this province all to yourself — the King of Ulster.”

It’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him.
“Of the two, I’d pick a game young bull like you.”

And then they bang it out, presumably in the middle of the road.

That was the flavor of the early literature. Here’s another go around, featuring Cuchalainn, alleged to be the Irish Achilles, and Emer, the girl he’s come a-courtin’:

“May your road be blessed!” cries Emer on his approach.
“May the apple of your eye see only good,” says Cuchulainn,
presumably reciting a wood graving his mom has hanging over the front door. Then, peering down her dress: “I see a sweet country. I could rest my weapon there.”

Z-z-ZAMN! Emer plays hard to get by rattling off a list of obscure, murderous deeds a man would have to perform before winning her sweet country.

“No man will travel this country until he has killed a hundred men at every ford from Scenmenn ford on the river Ailbine, to Banchuing… where the frothy Brea makes Fedelm leap.”

“In that sweet country, I’ll rest my weapon,” says Cuchulainn.

“No man will travel this country until he has done the feat of the salmon-leap carrying twice his weight in gold, and struck down three groups of nine men with a single stroke, leaving the middle man of each nine unharmed.”

“In that sweet country, I’ll rest my weapon.”

“No man will travel this country who hasn’t gone sleepless from Samain (Halloween), when summer goes to its rest, until Imbolc (Candlemass/Groundhog Day), when the ewes are ilked at spring’s beginning; from Imbolc to Beltaine (Mother’s day) at the summer’s beginning and from Beltaine to Bron Trogain, earth’s sorrowing autumn.”

“It is said and done.”

Remember that old “mayor of tiddy city” sketch? The whole of the Tain cycle can be summarized with: “Long story short — dong on tiddies.”

Fabulous. Now, the Irish were functionally still barbarians at the time of this writing — shocker, I know — but they had a fledgling culture developing, characterized mostly by these outrageous pre-adolescent campfire stories about celtic Hercules (and celtic Xena, considering how many brassy female leads wound up in their stories), along with the Iron Age moral code of “generous, handsome, and brave”. What set them apart from other Iron Age hero-worshipping civilizations from Mesopotamia right up through Greece was the casual brutality and monstrous metamorphosis they loved sticking to their protagonists. Berserkergang’s Irish cousin was called the “Warp-spasm”, and when the battle rage hit the Irish they would full-on mutate into demons. The descriptions played out like something out of Spawn. Let’s have a taste:

The first warp-spasm seized Cuchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from heat to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front … On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child… he sucked one eye so deep into his head than a wild crane couldn’t probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull; the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his longs and his liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram’s fleece reached his mouth from his throat… The hair of his head twisted like the tangle of a red thornbush stuck in a gap; if a royal apple tree with all its kingly fruit were shaken above him, scarce an apple would reach the ground but each would be spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.”

That’s the hero of the story. That’s Irish Batman.

From there, the book follows the trajectory of the Roman empire dealing with these and other barbarians, its eventual fall, and what became of classical learning from that point.

Up until the 4th century AD, books were academic third-person affairs, even fiction. Enter our boy Augustine, virtually inventing the concept of written self-disclosure and, functionally, psychotherapeutic journaling:

“I carried inside me a cut and bleeding soul, and how to get rid of it I just didn’t know. I sought every pleasure — the countryside, sports, fooling around, the peace of a garden, friends and good company, sex, reading. My soul floundered in the void — and came back upon me. For where could my heart flee from my heart? Where could I escape from myself?”

Not only did he introduce narrative stream-of-consciousness, he blazed a trail that would be travelled by goth and emo teenagers for millenia to come. His escape would eventually come in the form of God, surprise surprise, but not before he changed the whole landscape of literature.

Meanwhile, another saint, by the name of Patrick, was becoming a particularly prominent figure in the Catholic church. He was yoinked from Britain and enslaved by the Irish for ten years, then escaped, then decided he liked the Irish more and went proselytizing all over the Emerald Isle, adopting them as his people. The Irish went absolutely bananas for this. The BALLS on this guy! Everywhere Patty went, he left a cluster of churches in his wake, with the Irish trading their arbitrary clubfights and whatever for the hoo-rah tough guy mystique of hermitage. The druids transformed seamlessly into the Green Martyrs, since nothing really changed, aside from God being brought into it.

And like every good barbarian hero in fiction, once the Irish learned about books proper, they were hooked. Irish monks in particular could not and would not stop copying every scrap of paper they could find into increasingly complex codices, which they added embellishments to in classically overdramatic Irish fashion.

Meanwhile, the world burned. Rome fell, and with it classic literature. Anything Latin was systematically destroyed, pillaged, and burned. The world screeched to a halt, then tumbled into the Dark Ages, where it stayed until the renaissance. The renaissance, as made evident by its etymology, was “REbirth” because the initial birth had been the classical age. That knowledge had been rediscovered.

It was available for rediscovery because of all the compulsively meticulous Irish monks who copied thousands upon thousands of freehand codices and passed them down through their families. The book wraps up with a report of a farmer in Cork County in the mid 1800s who was reading his own familial codex on the train.

It was an excellent and thorough, if somewhat meandering book. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

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Florence: A Shoe Full of Beer

November 6, 2017. Florence, Italy.

I bailed out of my hostel and caught a bus to Florence, arriving at 3 PM. I’d overbooked myself. My plane leaves on the morning of the 8th, which gives me about a day to see all of Florence. This is the opposite of Sage Herbie’s advice, but it’s too late. I’ve buttered my bread. My stale, beef-jerky-chewy, terrible Italian bread.

I crash land in Florence and sprint of Florence Plus, which turned out to be less of a hostel and more of a low-budget indoor resort. I booked it because of the laundry facilities, but there’s a bar and a dance floor in the basement, there’s a terrace that I never got to see because of all the rain, there’s a Turkish bath and a “gym” which consisted of 2 ellipticals, but still. In the laundry room, I met a chef from New York on a similar trajectory as myself, and we grabbed a quick lunch of Florence’s world famous Thai food. We spent the meal bitching about how college is a hustle, but a far more successful hustle than all the unsuccessful hustlers we’d deflected in Europe.

We parted ways and I did a lap of Firenza. It’s a very small city, and all the sights to see are within a mile of each other. First stop was the Santa Maria del Fiori cathedral, which offered a whole host of Catholic-thematic sights for a mere $20 admission, such as “the tomb of some popes” and “weird old paintings that didn’t make it into any museums”. The duomo itself is, unsurprisingly, the crown jewel of the church everybody refers to as “the duomo”, but you needed to reserve a place at least a day in advance because this economy ain’t gonna support itself. I opted to ooh and aah at the cathedral interior, then book it to my next highlight. I would have mooned over the exterior too, but most of Europe seems to be undergoing maintenance.

From there I rolled out to Ponte Vecchio, which is the imaginatively named oldest bridge in Florence.

I saw a couple of market squares and haggled a t-shirt down to half price, then ate a steak and made my way back to the hostel. I sequestered in the quietest room I could find, which was, sadly, the dance floor, and wrote my account of Rome and the Vatican until I ran into my chef buddy from earlier.

“I’ve been drinking pretty much since lunch,” he said. “I wound up with a bunch of Americans and Canadians and South Koreans out on the terrace, and we killed 15 bottles of wine. 15.”

“Jesus.”

“Want me to introduce you to like 30 people?”

Sure. It was happy hour, why not. I met a ton of ’em and forgot every name except the French-Canadian girl who was real insecure about being in her mid-thirties, and I only remember hers because it sounded, to my unsophisticated ear, like “Julie” with a really over-the-top French accent. A tiny Colombian girl taught us all the rudiments of salsa dancing. It turned out, it was someone’s birthday, and he had hobbled up to the bar on the brink of blackout when the Australian girl announced, “WE’RE DOIN’ A SHOEY!”

In the barbarous outback, Australians will arbitrarily drink beer out of shoes, sometimes, for some reason. I looked into it, and it apparently stems from a 20th century custom of drinking champagne out of a lady’s slipper to signify decadence. I don’t know how Australia went from that point A to this point B, but the idea was introduced and the fervor was growing.

A disgusting side note: Everyone here is backpacking. You don’t bring multiple pairs of shoes backpacking because you don’t have the space to spare, so everyone is wearing the one pair of shoes they brought every moment of every day, walking an average of 10 miles a day through these exotic new locales. A hefty South Korean man donated his sneaker to the cause, and, to my unabashed horror, a shoey occurred.

“This is incredible,” the chef told me. “This is the highlight of my night.”

“What the hell’s he gonna do without a shoe?” I asked. The answer, it turned out, would be to spill half a bottle of white wine on the dance floor and grind his socks into it.

I hung in until 1 AM, but I had the Uffizi tomorrow, then a bus back to Rome. I bade all my new friends farewell, thanked them for the glass of wine (a drop in the bucket, really) and retired to my chambers.

I woke up the next morning and paid the $8 for the breakfast buffet. Back at home, I would eat a minimum of 4 eggs a day. Now, it had been two weeks since I had a scrambled egg, and I was suffering. I packed away three cups of coffee, a rasher of bacon, an alarming quantity of mushrooms, two rolls, a couple croissants, and a charcuterie board. The girl by the window kept glancing at me, presumably because of the acre of farmland I was eating, so I struck up a conversation with her that she did not understand at all.

“Very small English,” she said, gesturing.

“What’s your language?” I asked.

“Russian.”

“Oh, nope,” I said, shaking my head. “Not a chance, then.”

Despite the fact that she knew maybe 40 words of English, we spent around a half hour gesturing and making faces at each other to convey where we had been and where we were going. She told me she heard Athens was very nice, but she hadn’t gotten to go when she was in Greece. She had been in Crete, and the beaches were beautiful, but that was in the summer so odds are I wouldn’t get the chance to swim. She had only been doing a day or two in each place, and tomorrow she was bound for Rome; I warned her that there’s way too much to do in Rome, and she’d need to stay for at least a few days.

We said bon voyage and I gathered my stuff, checked out, and went to the Uffizi, where I waited in line for a precious hour. There was too much stuff there for me to do a play-by-play with pictures, but here’s the view from the rooftop cafe.

I got out and ate a tripe sandwich, which I would not recommend. It’s the greasiest thing I’ve ever eaten, and although the… tissue… holds spice flavors incredibly well, it still tasted kind of like cows smell. I spent my time waiting for the bus wondering how a stomach can digest another stomach.

Four hours later, I was in Rome, where I crashed at Melting Pot for six hours before returning to the bus station to catch the worst bus in Europe.

Friends, if you take nothing else from my blog, take this: Never, ever use Terravision. They’re not a bus company, they’re war criminals. It was psychological torture. At 4:40 AM, I showed the ticket they forced me to print out at the hostel (that was a whole different debacle; Terravision doesn’t accept tickets on phone or tablet) to catch the bus that was supposed to depart at 4:50 AM. He looked at it and said, “Next bus.”

The next bus, which was supposed to leave at 4:50, arrived at 5 AM. The early morning troglodytes clustered around the door as though, if they lowered their guard, their reserved seats would be given away. I got on the bus and shortly thereafter, a mother with an infant sat in the seat across from me. As is tradition. It was 5 AM, and something like 40 degrees on the bus. It was a matter of time before that child freaked out. The doom in the air was palpable.

The bus eventually went to the airport, but based on his spastic working of the pedals, I don’t think the driver had ever driven anything before. Maybe he was blind, or epileptic, or both. The bus was rattling apart around me. Unbelievably, they turned on the air conditioning.

I fled into the cold, tiny airport, which is where I’m writing this. My flight to Athens is about to start boarding. I’ll be in touch.

Love,

The Bastard

Vatican City: Narrative Conflict: Man vs God

November 6, 2017. Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

Christendom loomed ahead, sacred and caked with bird shit. The sacrosanct vendors on the street waved selfie-sticks at me in perfect beatitude. My shins hurt, but that’s an important aspect of pilgrimage.

I’m a reformed Catholic. I ran the catechism gauntlet right on up to first holy communion, where I ate the blessed cardboard Necco of Christ and sat in a closet where I told a priest everything bad that a 12-year-old did. Although, even at the time, I remember not telling him about the masturbation. Older now, and wiser, I realize it was for the best. Statistically safest to keep that manner of imagery out of that population’s mind. After I stammered something about “uhh I lied and did other bad things”, the priest said “All right, 3 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers”, to which I responded “You too!” and left. Turns out, in order to get that good absolution, you needed to recite the aforementioned prayers.

You know Locke’s concept of tabula rasa? I’m the opposite of that. I was never forgiven. I’m dragging every sin since day one, including the original one which I really had nothing to do with. That’s probably why my skin started to crackle and smolder when I set foot in Vatican City proper, but that was only the first of several tricks that perfidious scumbag Yahweh had up his sparkling omniscent sleeve.

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bird finna poop on an angel

You know the Sistine Chapel? I know you know it, because it’s the most famous church in the world. That’s the reason I went into the Vatican. I’m past redemption, I just want to see what Michelangelo did to the roof of the most famous extant church.

As an aside, Michelangelo is my second favorite Renaissance painter as well as my second favorite Renaissance ninja turtle. Leonardo is my first of both. Raphael comes in third, and I think we can all agree Donatello can be done without.

I digress. Remember the ultimate church, in God City, Italy?

Closed on Sundays.

Take all the time you need with that.

“Fuck you, buddy,” I hissed skyward, as I have many times before and no doubt will again. “I didn’t come here for nothing. I’ll see the museum. See some of the indulgences or whatever.”

“Museum’s closed too,” God said in a voice like thunder. “Eat a dick, bro.”

I believe I articulated something to the affect of “graaaAAAAAAAHHH” then pointed at the sky and bellowed, “Fine! Then I’ll wait in line for your lame-ass basilica! See if I don’t!”

It was at that point the sky parted and it rained for forty days and forty nights, directly on me while I stood in line to get into the 2nd runner up consolation site. All the good Christians looked at me from under their umbrellas. None offered, which was good. I wouldn’t have accepted. At least it stopped my skin from emitting black, sulfurous smoke.

“My friend!” a grifter said. “Rain slicker! Oombrella! Five euro!”

“Never!” I said, thrusting a sodden finger at him. “This is between me and God!”

“What?” he said, fairly.

“He’s gonna break before I do!”

I don’t need to describe his expression of discomfort as he sidled away, it’s already in your head.

God stopped the line, of course. As soon as I got into line, it stopped moving, because that was the only way He could get me to stand in the rain. Driven by pride. For is it not written in Proverbs that “Pride goeth before torrential rainfall”?

It is. And it did. Once I was soaked to the bone and convulsing in the first cold weather I’d experienced in the Mediterranean, I pointed to the sky, shouted “THIS ISN’T OVER YOU FUCK” and retreated into the comforting arms of science in the form of the Da Vinci Museum Experience.

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pic marginally related

Turns out, Leonardo da Vinci built a whole bunch of stuff out of wood. Who knew? The nice Roman mom let me wring out my shirt in the bathroom and blow-dry my hair on the hand dryer, deeply amused by what I’m sure she internally termed as however the hell you say “my shenanigans” in Italian. She even gave me a discount on entry to the museum because I was so soggy and charming.

Once that was squared away, the storm had broken, I presume because God is a coward at the end of his power. I returned to the basilica. No line now. Why would there need to be? There’s no rain for me to stand in. I walked into the big ol’ church, though not the big ol’ church I wanted to go into, because it’s closed on Sundays.

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it was a big ol’ church all right

 

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pretty sure this was God, dipping thru to taunt me

 

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some sort of sacred butthole, I guess. also pictured: a dude who definitely watched the Ring video

I asked if I could sit in a pew and pray. The guy looked puzzled and offered to let me sit in on mass, but I told him my best mass days are behind me, and I was hoping for a more private conversation. He waved me through because, realistically, they don’t pay him enough to deal with me.

I sat in the chair, folded my hands, and really let that big bastard have it. The kind of stuff that would guarantee we’d have to fight at the flagpole after school. I even threw in a “Richard Dawkins rules”, even though everyone knows that’s not true.

My peace said, I squelched out of the Vatican, pausing to be judgmental of statuary on the way out.

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see, this is why we shouldn’t have let them get away from the Greco-Roman style of sculpture. you think tits look like that? they don’t. you obviously just sculpted a dude and stuck vaguely spherical chunks of rock onto his chest. and like, not even where they go. did Picasso sculpt this?

I got back to the hostel quicker than I expected and grabbed a nap. My dreams were eldritch, and I woke up with images of a glowing underwater cave where siren voices warped in the water, somewhere between ecstatic and terrifying. It turned out that’s because a pair of Brazilian girls were in the common room playing acoustics and wailing. I went down and sat next to the wise old buck who told me to slow down. The proprietor handed me a guitar, and for the rest of the night he, the girls, and I drank $1 boxed wine and played acoustic covers of grunge songs while old Herb tapped his foot and occasionally said, “I don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, but I like this.”

Love,

The Bastard

 

Rome: Most of Tourism Is Taking Selfies with Rocks

November 6, 2017. Florence, Italy.

I took a bus out of Rome earlier today, bidding a fond farewell to everyone from the Melting Pot hostel, which is easily the best hostel I’ve stayed in so far. I owe the proprietor a review, although I’m not sure in what format yet.

My present hostel is an enormous multi-story affair in the middle of Florence, and for context, this is my present work space, chosen because it’s the only place no one’s screaming:

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It would be ironic, if I still believed in irony.

I finally made my way to the Coliseum after learning that the most effective way to repel grifters is with sudden, public psychological abuse. This convenient method will also work in a battery of other social situations, pretty much whenever.

A lanky dude was trying to appeal to my nonexistent better judgment, but his fatal misstep was implying I’m not a pretentious douchebag.

“You can wait in the line and go in yourself,” he offered, a generous god, “But you’ll just be walkin’ around the coliseum lookin’ at white rocks. You come with me, 10 euros, I’ll get you a trained English guide, he’ll tell you about the gladiators, Romulus and Remus, the executions… everything.”

“Uh huh,” I said. “You get a lot of people at the coliseum, don’t know what gladiators were?”

While he was pondering that one, I told him, “I think I’ll be good. Ciao.

They kept slithering up and insisting the line was 3 and a half hour wait. I announced, “Sounds sort of like bullshit to me. It’s half done and I’ve been here 10 minutes. This look like 3 and a half hours to anybody else?” They haggled it down to 3 hours, insistent it would take 3 hours because one of the metal detectors was broken.

“You’d think they could afford to get them fixed, considering how much your group tickets cost.”

Off he went. My segment of the line was left in relative peace until a dude who looked remarkably like Dogg the Bounty Hunter greased his way up to me and touched my shoulder, imploring me to “Just buy the ticket and skip the line.”

“I’m committed now,” I told him, and everyone in a 30 foot radius. “I’m in it to win it. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even want to see the Coliseum. I just like standing in lines. It lets me feel like I’m part of something.”

Once the parasites were gone, I whiled away the remainder of the time in line (about 20 more minutes) chatting with an Asian couple about their previous jaunts around Europe.

As promised, the rocks were predominantly white. It was filthy with humans, all of them photographing themselves at the ruins where 500,000 people were killed — oh look, a fact I knew without a certified English tour guide. I took one myself on the way out, but only to fit in. Being accepted is important to me.

I contemplated the Roman forum, but a trio of British girls assured me that the line that wrapped all the way around the block was the line for people who already had their tickets. Nah. I got the idea.

My tour of Rome would need to be expedited, since I was due for Florence tomorrow and then Athens on the 8th. I booked ass from there to the Pantheon, which, it turns out, is different from the Parthenon, and is filled with obscure Catholic statues, rather than things I care about.

Still, it was very big.

I swung up the Campidoglio, a gorgeous hilltop plaza designed by my boy Leo da Vinci, and wound up in the Capitoline Museums. One was dedicated to how great it was to be a Roman treasurer or whatever, but the other was packed to brimming with stolen Greek statuary! Now we’re talking. I spent some time with the severed heads of a few of my idols:

 

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ugly ass socrates

Little known fact: Though Socrates wrote no philosophical written records, he was the author of the Operation Ivy classic “Knowledge”.

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my boy Plato. talk about the Perfect Forms, huh? ladies???

 

“Good people need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the law.” – Plato

Like the law of no pictures in the museum?

 

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Seneca, seen here suffering. Dude loved suffering.

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” -Seneca

Christ, and he posed for this. Imagine how often he must’ve imagined suffering.

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your favorite and mine, epictetus

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”  -Epictetus

Only slightly more less stoic now that he’s rendered in stone.

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that dick pythagoras

He doesn’t get a quote. He doesn’t deserve one. I’m too mad that his beard is a goddamn triangle.

From there, I ate a pizza with a letter off (pieza? pienza? pinza?), lauded as “The most ancient food in Rome”. It was, in fact, normal pizza, only oval. I wolfed it down and scurried up to the Vatican. I had a score to settle with God.

To be continued.

Love,

The Bastard

Rome: Gotta Go Fast

November 5, 2017. Rome, Italy.

I tried the slowing down thing, and the results were predictably disastrous. It’s probably something you get better at with practice, like literally every other thing in life.

My first stop was the coliseum. I was chomping at the bit to get up there, considering my nigh-Aspergarian fixation on ancient Rome. It runs so deep, I’ve even watched a whole battery of awful Netflix originals about gladiatin’.

It’s swarming with people, of course, like noisy little cockroaches with selfie-sticks. Not a dealbreaker. I loosened the ol’ vertebrae and swayed through ’em, but not quick enough.

A horrible little man in a vest covered in stickers approached me and proceeded to shout, over and over again, that he worked for the Coliseum for free information. If this was intended to put me at ease, his shtick needs work. He kept advocating that I “skip the line”, and I kept saying I didn’t want a tour, to which he would tell me, “I show you the line. I show you the line for single entry, and then you decide.” Like I was some sort of stupid child.

I saw the line. It didn’t look that bad. I’d waited in longer lines for stupider things; the Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios comes to mind.

It’s literally just a fake train car with a TV screen where the window should be. THREE HOURS I lost in that line. I don’t even like Harry Potter. Wizards ruin whatever they’re a part of, you gotta stab ’em as soon as possible. Best wizard is a stabbed wizard.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort.

the hell are you grown adults doing? you are capable of drinking alcohol and having oral sex, and instead you’re in line for 5 minutes of children’s fake window train nostalgia, get a goddamn job

I digress. The horrible man paused his insulting my intelligence and extended a special offer to me that will allow me to skip a line, right now! A mere $40 for the cheapest ticket $80 for the deluxe round-the-world squeaky clean underground tour with happy ending!

“Jesus Christ,” I said, which I imagine translated fairly cleanly into Italian, or Moroccan, or whatever his mother tongue was.

“Is very cheap price,” he explained.

“This is the cheap price, huh?”

“Or you can wait in the entry line,” he said. “Up to you.”

“See, the third option is, I’m gonna come back later,” I said. “Ciao.”

“You can skip line right now!” he called after me, and that was probably true, but I was far too salty to find out.

I made my way through the tourists taking existence-validation selfies, deciding instead to see if I could get up to the Roman forum. Halfway up the hill, a man clasped my hand for way too long and started asking a lot of questions about where I was from. I answered him quickly with a hand on my wallet, because he seemed to be occupying a whole lot of my attention/field of vision and, in another life, that’s definitely the hustle I would use when having my co-conspirator pick pockets. Then he started repeating, “A gift, from me to you” and shoving quarter-store jewelry onto my wrists, little cheap-o leather friendship wristbands and hideous aluminum wrap-around bracelets “for your wife”, which I told him I didn’t have. I didn’t want him tying up my hands at all, so I took the first bracelet from him and put it on myself, then he started slam-dunking more of them into my hands while I tried to walk away.

“This is way too much,” I said, taking them off and trying to hand them back. “I can’t accept this. I don’t even have a place for these. Thank you, but I can’t.”

“Is a gift,” he chanted.

“I know, and I appreciate it, but it’s too much,” I said, still watching over my shoulder.

“Can I just get something for my daughter?” he said. “My daughter, back in *unintelligible*, she very sick, my daughter and mother, can I just get something for them, 2 euro?”

I soured.

“That’s not a gift,” I said, successfully removing all the bracelets and putting them back in his hands, “What you’re describing is a transaction. I didn’t agree to one of those. Here.”

“Is a gift, just something for my daughter, please.”

“No. Thanks. Good luck.”

I slipped away from him, pulled my wallet into my front pocket, and made it maybe fifteen paces before a much larger, thicker man, obviously from the same point of origin as the previous man and his sick family, emerged from the crowd and clasped me by the hand, screaming, “HEYYYY NEW YORK!”

“Hey. Scranton, actually. No thanks.”

“I have bracelets!” he said. “For unity! Black or white, it doesn’t matter!”

“Agreed,” I said, “But I’m really not interested in bracelets.”

I tried to pull away, but he was actually holding me there by my hand, physically preventing my withdrawal. He had a grip on him, that one.

“Where you from?” he asked again.

I wrapped my left hand around his thumb and twisted his hand off, repeating, “No. Thanks.” He yelled something after me but I can’t imagine it was important.

I can’t stand grifters, man. That’s one of my berserk buttons. It’s bad enough that they’re trying to get their little grabby hands on things that belong to you, but when they add an insult to your intelligence into the mix, I get a little feral.

Even the internet in Rome got in on it; my one attempt to connect to the city Wi-Fi was met with a splash page that said, “We’ll need your credit card number for a one-time activation charge of $0.75! It is literally our law. After that, your credit card will be stored by the city and never, ever used again, ever, we promise.”

On the way up the slope to the Roman Forum, a pioneering young Italian with a teeth that looked like a rockslide slithered up to me and asked, “Are you against hard drugs?”

“I guess that depends,” I said.

“I have a petition here. Oh, no, don’t be mad, sir. I have a petition here, against hard drugs. Just I am looking for signatures.”

“Yeah, all right. I’m conceptually against hard drugs. This is just a petition?”

“Yes, just a petition.”

I took the clipboard from him and started signing fake information. The final box was “Donations”, and all of them were 20 euros.

“We ask a small donation,” he said, “Most people give about 20 euros.”

“A donation. To your petition. Against hard drugs.”

“It is for the children, sir,” he said.

I wrote a big ol’ 0 in the fraudulent box and handed it back to him.

“Thanks so much for this,” he said. “It is important to me, because I am actually a recovering drug addict myself.”

“Are you, now.”

“Yes, I was addicted to cocaine.”

“Are you sure? That’s not physically addictive.”

“I am recovered now.”

“Oh, well, good for you.”

I stuffed the petition into his hand and decided to come back to the coliseum when there were fewer vultures. My blood was boiling, and although I appreciated the irony that would be inherent in my getting arrested for decapitating Romans right outside the coliseum, I didn’t want my bastard travels to end on such a down note.

To be continued later today. I need to get as much sightseeing in as I can if I’m going to make it to Florence and back before my flight to Athens.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Rome: Slowin’ it Down

November 4, 2017. Rome, Italy.

I read that it was Madrid’s night life that really shines, and since I had to catch a bus to the airport by 5 AM I opted not to book a hostel and spend the night homelessly bar-hopping. I spent an hour in Museo Chicote, Hemingway’s “best bar in Spain, certainly” and had his recommended daiquiri. I imagine when he was there the lighting was less fish-tank neon and they played fewer techno remixes of Sweet Dreams, but I could be wrong. Maybe that’s why he liked it.

I walked down a street grabbing tapas and beer at each place until I felt full for the first time that week, then chased it with a coffee to make sure I’d catch the bus. This proved to be unnecessary, since the entirety of Madrid closed by 2 AM. I don’t know where all these travel writers are getting the idea of “Madrid goes hard until at least 4 AM”, but I imagine probably the on-season. There were, however, so many insistent prostitutes who literally chased me up the Gran Via, trying as hard as they could across several language barriers that I had just happened to discover a stone-sober, sexually liberated young woman who found me irresistibly attractive, and that in this part of the world “how about a blow job?” is a common icebreaker.

“I just feel like it’s too early in our relationship,” I told the first.

“Only one night! One night relationship,” she clarified.

“Tell me, sweetheart, this relationship. Does it cost money?”

“Not even that much! Not even much money!”

I caught the 2:30 bus and slept on the airport floor and a sequence of planes until I arrived in Rome, where they tried very hard to convince me that the only way I would get to my hostel was by $50 taxi.

I explained to them that I could easily just take a $6 bus to center city and walk the half mile to my hostel, but they insisted that it was impossibly far, and my only chance of survival in the unnavigable maze of Rome was to take a taxi. I told them thanks, and took the bus, settled into my hostel, showered, shaved, took a nap, then went down and had free pasta dinner cooked by an immensely outgoing receptionist named Doniella. At dinner, I got drunk off $2 wine with a German med student and a 700-year-old American named Herbie, who extended me this sage advice:

“You gotta slow down. You’re taking this too fast. It’ll all be there, you’re not gonna die next month.”

“You don’t know that,” I said, because I’ve never been able to project myself more than 2 days into the future.

“That’s true, but you’re probably not. You can’t keep rushing around like this or you won’t enjoy anything. Take a week. Really see Florence. You should take at least two if you want to see everything in the countryside, but maybe that’s another trip. You have time.”

I fought him every step of the way during the conversation because my pastiche of personal philosophies draws heavily from zen and existentialism, both of which are really specific about “This day will not come again.”

“You didn’t come all the way across the world to not spend the money,” he chided, which was weird because we hadn’t talked about money. “Slow down, take your time. There’ll always be more time and money. Learn the Greek alphabet. Go to Istanbul!”

His advice became a little meandering from that point on, but it was the thought that counts.

“You don’t have to rush. Just go out, see everything. Then you can die.”

“Hear, hear,” I said, and we clonked (it wasn’t a clink) our plastic cups of grocery store wine.

Then, after a moment, “Welp, the wine’s gone. I’m going to bed. See you all tomorrow.” And off he went.

I was good and drunk and still tired because it turns out sleeping on planes in 1 hour increments is not the same thing as a night’s rest, so I stumbled upstairs and went dead to the world for 10 hours. But as I did, I internalized what Herbie said. I fundamentally disagree. I don’t have time. None of us have time, life is too short to not Go For It, whatever the present It happens to be, but I think he’s right in that I’ll enjoy myself more if I slow my roll a little. You can Go For It strategically. It can be a plan.

I’m going to reread the Stoics while I’m here, I think. Marcus Aurelius was always my favorite, and seeing his colossal, melon-shaped head in a marble bust at the Prada brought his Meditations screaming back to me. I’ll wrap this up with what seems like an unrelated Epictetus quote, but just replace “books” with “travel”, or “making money”, or anything else people collect like Pokemon cards as though the collection is enough.

“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.” 
 Epictetus, The Art of Living 
Love,
The Bastard