Barcelona: The Nightmare Gallery

Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Burzum – Dunkelheit

My flight to Bilbao was cancelled due to a ground crew strike, but the airport set me up with another three hours later, ensuring I’d miss the fire festival. Ladygirl’s flight back to the smoldering ruin of Philadelphia (go birds) was not similarly afflicted, and she boarded a bus at the crack of dawn, leaving me to my devices.

I already got my cafe time in, and tickatacka’d plenty. What’s a boy to do?

Off I drifted in a weird, widening gyre through the Gothic Quarter, contemplating early beers or late breakfasts and declining them, sick of consuming, but still hungry for something. I thought about the Picasso museum, but looked at the line, and the screaming school children, and decided I didn’t care about Picasso that much. Picasso cared about Picasso enough for all of us.

gSome eldritch entity heard my plea and sundered the world. From that rending, nestled in the dark, bloomed the entry to the Museu Europeu d’Arte Modern, or MEAM. I stared into it, and it back into me. We could each hear the other breathing.

I went in.

Uno adult, general. Por favor,” I said to the demon behind the counter. I handed her coins. I’m not sure how much, but I’m sure its equivalence would be 30 pieces of silver. Her face split open like a shark’s grin.

Absolutamente.”

After my last brush with MEAM, also chronicled here, I wound up crouching in the alley with the homeless, chainsmoking my way through what may have been a panic attack or some kind of dissociation. Some sort of madness. I walked out unhinged, and it took me twenty minutes to rehinge.

It greeted me like an old friend:

“Other people mean nothing,” MEAM whispered its dissonance into my head. “Their words are cold wind, their applause the ghostly echoes of a long-empty mausoleum. Ascension can only be gained through power. Reach within.”

“Jesus, dude,” I said.

The first piece that really drove a chisel into my cerebrum was La paleta de olvido, which is appropriate, since that was its subject matter. It didn’t hit proper until I clumsily translated the title – “The Blade (or maybe palette) of Forgetting” — when figured out the sticky note.

“I’m me.”

Then came “The Process of Transformation of Fear into Art”. Perseus, bare-assed, vulnerable and exposed, swinging the still-screaming head of Medusa. One missed bounce, one unaccounted-for twist and the gaze will fall on him, petrify him on the spot. His horse is panicking, completely out of control. His only defense is his helmet, guarding the brain. Intellectualization. Plato’s Monster all over again.

Nonato, a decaying giant of cast bronze grows from the floor, grasps at his own pedestal. He’s pushing himself out. The rest of the way into our world.

Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you’d walk down a dark hallway or go into a dark room, and you’d know something was in there with you, watching you? And you’d ride that thrill of horror as far as it would go, just to see how long you could stand there, staring into the melding shapes in the dark, before you had to turn on the lights?

Maybe not. Maybe that was a me thing. Either way, that’s what it was like getting close to this sculpture. It was real enough that it looked like it was breathing. I was especially cautious of this after that Galileo the other day.

Found the plaque. It’s on the bottom. Whoops. The title was something like “Fig0315”, not sure on the artist.

Diana herself, done justice in the best artistic interpretation I’ve ever seen, and wearing Chuck Taylors. There’s an incredible amount of detail in the rock surrounding her, with hidden faces, shapes, and symbols. All sorts of subliminal seeds, slithering in and taking root while you’re distracted.

No opaque horror in this one, but something was going on somewhere in the earth tone frenzy and soft, sweeping curves. I kept staring but couldn’t make sense of it, but the implication of sense is there, like having something on the tip of your tongue. Just out of your mental reach.

“All men will be forgotten,” the MEAM burbled telepathically, like black tendrils in my mind. “Most are already dead and haven’t realized it. Scrabbling for praise is the pathetic pursuit of the doomed. Immortality is thankless, but the only noble pursuit.”

“Okay,” I whispered, and fled into the streets.

Neither were they safe.

I don’t think I dipped into Lovecraftian madness on this go-around, but I suppose the insane never realize they’re insane. Either way, my faculties were well-enough operational to get me to the airport, and put me on a plane.

Hurry hurry hurry.

Love,

B.

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

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

 

Madrid: Hangin’ in There

November 1, 2017. Madrid, Spain.

I think I was so enchanted by Barcelona because it was such a cosmopolitan cultural hub. Walking down the street, you’d find eight different kinds of food in the same block and people speaking as many different languages.

Madrid is different. There’s not a lot of culture to see here. There’s a handful of museums (pic related), but nothing really novel, nothing that you’d go out of your way to hunt down unless you’re on a school field trip. For the record, the line to get into the Prada museum seemed to be comprised mostly of school field trips, and it wrapped around the block. I’ve been going to coffee shops to write every morning; this morning, I had to resort to a Starbucks because Spain doesn’t open until 10 AM.

breakfast

This is breakfast, in a bare minimum kind of way. Dasayuno mediterraneano, which is some bread, olive oil, tomatoes fresh out of the blender, and salt. Bone apple teeth.

The statuary seems likewise confused as to why I opted to spend four days here. I tried assuring them it was for proximity to airport and affordability of tickets, but they weren’t convinced.

vatofrice

After a week in Spain, I finally got my hands on some paella. The hostess assured me it fed a minimum of 2 people, and I assured her “Nuh-uh”. It turned out, I was right. It wasn’t bad, but it was a pound of buttered rice with seafood and chicken bones in it. I feel like the travel writers (including this dude) might have overhyped this one.

The fact of the matter is, the Spanish economy is not doing so hot. That’s why everything costs at least $5 more than it does in the real world and probably why the inhabitants seem to subsist entirely on tapas. It’s not a problem in and of itself, but you can see it in the infrastructure, and how everybody is always coming at me with little grabby-hands, begging and demanding and pan-handling and whoring. I can’t stand grabby-hands.

Rome in 2 days. Staying the course. Gonna try to get belligerently drunk tonight, that oughta get things a little more mezclado. Silver lining, I’m getting plenty of Spanish practice. I think if I got a job where I needed to use it, I’d be fluent inside of a month. My working vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds each day. Hopefully I can skive the same deal with my strictly literary knowledge of Italian once I get to Rome in 2 days.

I also bailed out of the worst hostel in Europe that doesn’t kill you and into a much nicer place called SafeStay Madrid, which is, by the fact they need to put “safe” in the name, somewhat ominous. It’s a huge, clean, pleasant place, though. Hot water and everything! They’ve also got a giant movie room where I spent most of yesterday marathoning Stranger Things. I still can’t believe Sam Gamgee is shacking up with Winona Ryder.

Love,

The Bastard