Thursday, May 30, 2013

four days back

I'm pretending I'm not still jetlagged, my mom asked me if I felt any warm patriotic feelings upon reentering the united states and I said no, because I had to go through customs and TSA and Bloomberg's Fiefdom. But I'm glad to be back here, because despite the insatiable curiosity, I'm still a bit of a midwestern provincial homebody who misses the conversations that I've come to love and the camaraderie of the familiar.

I fell back into the routine quickly, because ultimately I like structure with wiggle room. My apartment's still in need of some rearranging which probably won't happen for another month thanks to housesitting and wanting to use the hours post-work for way more enjoyable things like catching up with folks and taking advantage of free soccer tickets to watch Team America get schooled by Belgium, somewhat enjoying the beauty of sheer athleticism coupled with the enjoyment of watching red-white-and-bros get bummed, because the USA! USA! chants just make me depressed, just like I don't sing the national anthem because I don't see the need to make a small deity out of a piece of cloth made in China. So I wasn't bummed when the score was 4-2 Belgium at the end of the night, if only because it deflated that microcosm of ego and exceptionalism that I don't subscribe to.

Despite my plans of wheeliebussing it back to the west side, one of my friends picked me up and and we chilled at K's new place around the corner from me. With the exception of her five months in Niger after our stint as roommates, we've since lived within a few streets of each other for the last five years after meeting a decade ago as next-door dorm neighbors. I was tired but I haven't seen him in too long and there's such a comfortable familiarity there as we slack together in the first warm summer night. These are the things that I miss when I'm away.

Anyways, here's a few pictures. I had a giant memory card in my dinky pointandclick, so I ended up with something like 700 pictures, mostly of cathedrals and whatnot but here.

 St. Sebald's Church
Former rally grounds next to the stadium. Now a locale for tourist photos, tailgating Ultras, and Antifa activists with spray paint cans.
Green smoke from the Werder Bremen side. They lost 3-2.
Unfinished Congresshalle, this massive colusseum-looking thing now houses the local orchestra and a museum.
Olympic Park in Munich, the rolling hills are rubble now covered with grass and trees.
Nymphenburg Palace was pretty absurd in its ostentation.
Town Hall in Munich, which had loads of awesome gothic architecture buttresses and steeples and such.
Sunset over Prague.
portion of the Mucha window at St. Vitus.
The very cool Astronomical Clock in Old Town that every tourist has a picture of.
St. George's Basilica is almost a thousand years old.

Vysehrad was the favorite haunt of the expats, locals, and grade school field trips, a huge park where a giant fortress complex once stood, ancient fortification walls, with a church whose interior reminded me of an Ivan Bilibin painting inside, a cemetery full of national heroes enshrined beautifully, and some pretty badass Slavic statuary.  
Strahov Monastery's library made me jealous of Jesuit monks who could hang out with 10th century tomes and swank items of science and whatnot. 
Alchemy Museum tourist trap ruled, if only to go down into some spooky noochie tunnels. 
The Spanish Synagogue was gorgeous, oh my goodness.
I took a ton more pictures but I don't want to bore you and all. Every building in Prague was gorgeous, Nuremberg was lovely, I would have liked to see more of Munich, but here is where I always need to come home to. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013


so I almost thought I'd mıss my bus and then I got off the bus three hours later realızıng that I forgot my map and dırectıons and I'm ın a totally dıfferent cıty and have a borrowed phone wıth a SIM card but no avaılable smart capabılıtıes so I buy a map at the tourıst offıce, proceed to get completely lost because the streets aren't labeled ın a way I'm used to and the backpack ıs heavy as hell and I can't get ahold of the gırl I'm supposed to rent a room from so I am tryıng to enjoy all the swank archıtecture but I'm also kınd of freakıng out. A kındly neıghbor helps me steal wıfı so I can emaıl her and then everythıng works out okay thank God and I forget my troubles at the park drınkıng currant juıce ın the beer garden and learn that weed was legalızed here so soon the cıty wıll be the next Amsterdam.

Maybe ıt's the substances that everyone's ımbıbed but they're very frıendly and fun to talk to and I feel at home here, and we decamp to a pub ın Zızkov for more conversatıon and they recommend places to go that I take them up on. The next day I connect wıth my aunt's frıend who grew up ın the Czech Republıc before ıt splıt and ımmıgrated 40 years ago but ıs now back to take care of famıly matters. She hasn't been to the cıty sınce then but speaks the language and has a lot of stamına so we have a great tıme explorıng the castle, admırıng the staıned glass and archıtecture of sundry old churches, watchıng the astronomıcal clock, walkıng through back streets. I get to see the bıblıotheque of Strahov for fıfteen mınutes before ıt closes and totally geek out over 14th century tomes and cabınets of curıosıtıes and we get cheap Turkısh food and then overprıced coffee and ıce cream before partıng ways ın front of Mucha's munıcıpal house where her great uncle partıcıpated ın creatıng the ıronwork that I adore.

And today I flaneured some more, eatıng rolls and yogurt smoothıes from the grocery store and traversıng the ruıns of the Vysehrad fortress, the basılıca that remınded me of an Ivan Bılıbın ıllustrated book brought to lıfe, and the awesome cemetery. I love old cemeterıes so much. Then I walked along the rıver, wandered through back streets, somehow dıdn't each lunch or much for dınner, went to the Jewısh Quarter, ambled through some parks, and got tourıst trappy at the Alchemy Museum before wanderıng back thıs way, detourıng at the Mucha exhıbıt and a couple of record stores, not wantıng to sıt down and eat when there was stıll daylıght and more streets full of art nouveau archıtecture and old stuff to explore.

I leave tomorrow to go back to Nuremberg and fly home Sunday mornıng. I realıze that I lıke wanderıng ındependently but stıll feelıng connected, that I mıss my folks at home despıte the beauty and fascınatıon that thıs cıty holds.

adventures part 1

so I'm wrıtıng thıs ın Prague on a keyboard wıth turkısh characters thanks to my gracıous hostess, aırbnb evıdently beıng a decent way to do thıs. That's why the ı's look funny.

anyways, flyıng ıs long and ıt's hard to sleep but I survıved and was too full of adrenalıne to sleep too long upon arrıval and found myself ın a beer garden wıthın ten mınutes of beıng off the plane. took a walk to the park because my feet are on new soıl and I need to traverse ıt. She's got another frıend ın from out of town and we all have dınner and I crash early.

oh and we watched thıs.

The next day we explore the cıty a bıt, walk around the cıty center of Nuremberg whıch was mostly rebuılt after WWII and I fell ın love wıth St. Lorenz's tall gothıc arches and northern renaıssance artwork everywhere. I could have spent all day there takıng ın the musty old smell. There are punk rock kıds and street musıcıans and gaggles of tourısts and regular folk all over the square. We see the maın sıghts, another church, the fountaın, the castle/fortress on top of the hıll and past Albrecht Durer's house,  walk back around to get coffee and such.

so the next day we go to the soccer game and my frıend's husband says we have to do Nazı stuff whıch ınvolves clımbıng up the old rally grounds across from the stadıum. No one quıte knows what to do wıth ıt so ıt's just crumblıng there (loaded hıstory means no one wants to maıntaın ıt and that ıt probably shouldn't be torn down)... grass growıng on the steps, fans taılgatıng and grıllıng sausages on the steps and tourısts takıng photos, antıfa graffıtı all over and he tells us that goosesteppıng or salutıng wıll get you arrested.

So ıt's the last game of the season and ıt really doesn't matter but the ultras gıve our homıes a hard tıme for wearıng the wrong color green ın a sea of red and burgundy. FC Nurnberg vs. Werder Bremen and the Ultras are wavıng flags ıncludıng the stars and bars and the vısıtıng Bremeners are blowıng off green smoke bombs and chantıng. What gets me ıs that the energy ıs from the crowd not from the scoreboard tellıng you to clap and ıt's ıncredıble to watch. Bremen loses and then we explore the ruıns of Speer's unfınıshed colusseum and stop for Vıetnamese food that made me mıss my hometown because ours ıs so much better, get ıce cream and then the guy at the vıdeo store recommended that movıe about Moon Nazıs so I guess there's a theme here.

But we get back and Eurovısıon's on whıch I always read about but never get to see the absurdıty.
The geopolıtıcal dynamıcs and the general trend towards sappıness coupled wıth bızarre costumes and ınterpretıve dance ıs a thıng to behold especıally as the votıng shenanıgans begın. We voted for Greece's folk punks but the Denmark song that won wasn't too bad for pop musıc as ıt was and Norway's kınd of had that goth chıck pop thıng goıng on.

WTF moments ıncluded Romanıa wıth the Dracula and Lady Gaga had a kıd ın Opera Glamland.

Sunday mornıng we took a traın to Munıch where we went up and saw the vıew from the TV tower, hung out at OlympıcPark and then went ınto the cıty center were everythıng was closed and ıt was raınıng. Archıtecture was swank, food hard to come by, but I ducked ınto an old cathedral where a choır was sıngıng and ıt blew me away. It's funny to me that all the songs I hear comıng out of the restaurants are all ones I remember hearıng on the radıo ın hıgh school. Evıdently Joan Osborne and Crazy Town are stıll a thıng.

And then the next day I went to church wıth her husband and theır frıend and then darkthronıng through the cıty solo ın search of the Natıonal Museum full of Durer but I got lost half on purpose and took swank photos but found ıt way too late when ıt was closed. Lıke all these other thıngs, there wıll eventually be photos. I ended up at a gatherıng of expats (Amerıcan, Vıetnamese, Georgıan, Japanese) wıth German husbands and had some good conversatıon or at least the parts I understood and ate amazıng food and kınd of feel lıke I've gone way more natıve than ıf I dıd some tour group thıng... and then Prague ıs where I'm at now and wıll be the followıng post.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

creative block

Final paper turned in, it's raining, the cats are hovering around here somewhere, I got invited to a party but being a quasi control freak means I'm not going if someone else is driving because I want to be able to go home. An introverted night of tea and slacking around and watching Massacration videos because things are more funny when you're tired.

I got a free ticket to see Boris last night and they blew me away. The Young Widows were good too, there were lots of dudes with beards around being introverted to the riffage and I'm sure some were drooling over the lovely lady guitarist. I took some good pictures but forgot to grab the usb cable when I stopped at home. Stayed for most of the set, which veered from noisetastic raveups to droney shoegaze to doomtacular heshery.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

at the corner

so last night, I got a text from my pastor and facebook messages from some people who go to an awesome church on the corner of Scranton and Clark that they were going to be doing a prayer vigil thing at the corner of Scranton and Seymour, just a block or so north, so I ended up going down there to show some solidarity, to give comfort, to listen, even though the introvert in me wasn't sure if I even belonged there, because I want to respect that people are trying to live their lives and stuff and not become part of the inevitable media circus. Whether I did or not is up for others to judge if they want.

I drive over and I can already tell it's going to be crazy when I get off the exit and there's hundreds of motorcycles roaring down 25th, handmade signs thanking God for this miracle, people in the streets everywhere like it's 4th of July or something. I park in the church lot and walk over, and it's quiet over here, I see a few people I know that I haven't seen in a couple years since me and the roommate fell out and I dropped out of that social circle, but a commonality of belief and vision makes it seem like days. It is quiet over on our side, except for people praying and singing on the steps of a church at the corner.

Most of them are more charismatic than me, so I don't get too loud, it's hard enough to string coherent thoughts together with the emotions so overwhelming and I find myself grieving that this took ten years and that there's so many others who've gone missing, and that awful things happen to women in this city and around the world all the time. We pray for the girls, for the families, for the neighborhood, for the law enforcement that they would start doing their job in a way that doesn't hurt others, for the men themselves. A woman who says she's the aunt of the one of the girls asks us to pray for the Castro family because of the pain they're dealing with and the inevitable blowback to come.
And there were so many news cameras and vehicles everywhere and people with their cameras gawking and taking pictures of everything with their iPhones and people just kind of milling around who were hoping to get interviewed. Neighbors sitting on porches observing, people riding by on their bikes,  I've never been around that kind of thing really and to see the level of production, the incongruity of impeccable broadcasters and us regular folk. 

There are four of us left hanging out in a parking lot under the stars, trying to figure out what we could and should be doing, because these emotions subside, but we live here, this is where we need to be connected and trying to love, and trying to figure out how to do that more.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

for ten long years

After the tempest of the local newsrag's misgendering of a murder victim, a subsequent arrest for that, I think I used to ride the same bus as that kid, and I don't know what the semantics are but no one should die like that. Not to excuse our newsrag, but given the way things are on their way out, I don't expect good journalism and find myself reading the Guardian for the local news stories these days.They've got the best coverage here.

And then this whole thing, which I saw on CNN when my Internet was acting wonky. I remember when those girls disappeared, and thought it was probably the same person. facebook wasn't even working I think there were so many Clevelandians collectively freaking out and rejoicing that these girls who've been missing and presumed dead the last ten years were found alive.

 I know that neighborhood, I live a few blocks north and slightly west of where they were found, almost two blocks north exactly of where they disappeared. My friend used to work at the auto parts store across from where the one girl got kidnapped and always worried about me being over there.  I've probably driven by that house, and that gives me chills. And of course there's the usual ignorant folk who make fun of the local color but screw them. These folks are pretty much my neighbors, the people I go to church with, the people I rub shoulders with at the grocery store. The Queen of the Bondo points out that if the guy below was walking on the same street as most of these people calling him a hero, they'd probably avoid him. That being said, mad props to him.

I can't even begin to comprehend the horror and disbelief. I just can't process the emotions of being glad they're alive, hoping that they recover from the hell of the last decade, frustration at a city's law enforcement who seems more concerned about generating city revenue than protecting vulnerable people. A couple years ago we found out 12 women were rotting in someone's house, this year it's three women being imprisoned in someone's basement for ten years. What the hell. And it seems like the neighbors did call the police but nothing was really ever done. This makes me so angry.

And then I wonder how many other situations are like this, and how many other times we've called the police and nothing's been done. I can think of at least two times when this has happened in my world, and then that other time when that girl's body was dumped on the side of the highway and the cops couldn't get bothered to look. 

We live in a city where human life is devalued, where the response time and whether or not you're taken seriously when you call for help depends on which neighborhood you're in, where new developments are built downtown while neglected neighborhoods continue to deteriorate because they're not gentrified, where police fire 137 shots at an unarmed car, where people would rather talk about condos than schools, where we close schools and build more prisons, where bike lanes are more important than safe places for kids to play, where women go missing all the time, where rape is a regular thing, where the infant mortality rates across the street from said hospital are comparable to third-world countries. I could go on here, but it makes me sick to think about.

I am happy for these girls, I am happy to see people come together to rejoice that what's lost is found, but this place, I can't even describe how I feel.

Monday, May 6, 2013

the tyranny of the bubble

I really believe in seeing outside what resides in my limited sphere, of hearing other perspectives different than my own, of avoiding the echo chamber of ideology/subculture/religion/provincialism at all costs. That's relatively easy because I don't see the world the same way most other people in my world do and I'm reasonably comfortable with that. Seeing the world through the eyes of others is fascinating anyway, which is why I enjoy blogworld and the Internet and reading books about people that aren't like me in places that I've never been to.

It's incredible to me with the vast array of perspectives and sheer quantity of fascinating stuff and information, how stupid a lot of people still are willing to be. It's not that hard to fact-check those memes that proliferate like crabgrass in my garden, or that urban legend that resurfaces every few years, or whether or not so and so is dead and whether or not that article is satire and then say it doesn't matter. I'm glad that people have pointed out when I've goofed on there, and I make the amends accordingly. 

I don't know how you could not bother to do your homework on our foreign or environmental policy, or learn something about another country, or get your news from somewhere other than a cable news outlet or Jon Stewart, or a quick perusal of AlJazeera English is sufficient enough to see it's not AlQaeda news.

I get that people are going to be mean and creepy especially when things like abortion or religion are involved. I wonder where some of these people live and who their friends are and if they live in bubbles that they never try to pop. What basement or what hipster ghetto where you don't know anyone who practices a different religion or lifestyle or whatever.

And it's fascinating to me to watch the echo chamber at work, when everyone gets all shrill and groupthinky together about OMG wingnuts/Democrats/people who drive cars/people who ride bikes/people who live in cities/people who live in suburbs/gay-straight-trans-bi/Muslims-Christians-Atheists/Dave Mustaine/Ted Nugent/Morrissey/AmandaPalmer). Assumptions are made, opinions affirmed, as if Point A is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER when there's a whole lot of other things going on. Suddenly everyone's a conspiracy theorist in their own way.

Because any dissenter gets shouted down or has to qualify the argument in a way that one wouldn't do if you were all sharing beers at the local bar. It's a pathetic validation, and for all the talk of how bullying is bad (no shit), if anything, it cements my theory that this is a universal human trait when I see the bullying that goes on in comments sections on pretty much anything. It's only bullying if someone does it to you, isn't it?

Also, no one outside that website and that little bubble really gives a shit about bike lanes or food trucks or mason jars or that band putting out that record. No one else cares and they go on living their life. I have to remind myself of this.

Friday, May 3, 2013

the first week of warmth

night 1...
When you've been inside all day, and trying unsuccessfully to cut down on your caffeine intake, and it's beautiful out, you get the itch to start thinking and exist with others, and I don't know him well, there's nothing like that going on, but an exchange of ideas was needed. We changed our plans the other night and walked from my house down to the water, instead of getting coffee, which probably would have been awkward and datey. We were talking about art and God and this strange hovering between the embrace of subculture and the spiritual community that alternately nourishes and frustrates.

The sunlight was fading by the time we reached the beach, staring out over the empty sand to the lavender water and the pink sky enraptured by not the most picturesque sunset, but a peaceful understated one. There's something wonderful about the near-empty beach in the twilight.

I don't come down here much, he says.
All my greatest memories happened here, I say. There's always something to remember here.

We run into people he knows, foment plans of the creative kind that my skeptical self finds myself questioning a few days later. As we walk back, a group of kids sets off a hot air balloon lit from one of the grills, and it looks like a burning heart soaring away through the darkness. It sounds twee of me to say this but there was something very beautiful about it. We walked back and I took him past this giant thicket of bamboo by one of the mansions where all the birds live, and we listened to the rustle and the singing before walking back to my front yard and going our separate ways.

night 2...
The next night I have dinner on the porch with the usual suspects and then go out for a friend's birthday and miss dinner with them but end up at a pub I like with a group of her friends, most of whom I barely know. The can of Strongbow I'm drinking usually doesn't do much to my equilibrium but I knew I was a little more tipsy than usual and a little hazy so I don't say as much for a change. Most of the time when I have a drink either alcoholic or caffeinated I end up going on long ramblings about Balkan geopolitics or my beef with most urban planners or foreign policy or the intricacies of sundry music or religion but I'm not feeling like doing that this time. It's too loud in here, and these people are neither total strangers nor close friends.

I get introverted in gatherings like these and either become a total wallflower or Mary Contrary. I either say nothing or start talking about how awesome inner-ring suburbs are, and how Lynyrd Skynyrd is better than your favorite indie rock band, that the guy you voted for sucks, and how I love driving my car and riding bikes scares me.

But as such, people keep telling me stories that they think I'll find funny but I don't find them funny and feel bad because I'm not amused, they're not realizing that I'm really not as cool as I evidently come across to those that don't know better. I don't want to be impressed, I almost feel embarrassed for you when you try to do it. I just want you to be yourself, and not drop f-bombs because you think I'm tough, not try to impress me by pointing out the dudes at the bar who are probably into Nickelback, because who cares.

My theory is that alpha males overcompensate by talking about the geeky dweebs or extolling their physical prowess and their fast cars, beta males overcompensate by talking about how dumb alpha male bros are and try to impress you with their record collections, knowledge of local restaurants, smartphone capabilities and their swank bikes. Bros will be bros and geeks will be geeks. I'm usually not this magnanimous, and I know that high school never ends, but this is getting old and so are you. It must be the hard cider talking.

night 3... 
I end up working late and decide not to do anything social. I work in the garden until sunset, marvel at the seedlings poking up through the soil that will be spinach and chard, and walk to the corner store past kids playing in the apartment building parking lot, the EMTs in the garage relaxing on lawn chairs, and the crowds at the punk bar and the old-man-gay-bar. It's a beautiful night, and I feel safe because there's so many other people around.

One of my friends had a former roommate who needs a place to stay for a month or three, and doesn't know that many people over here or have a lot of cash, since she's from Ethiopia, working at a gas station, and going to nursing school. I have an extra room at my place for the purposes of art making and having a place where people can stay, so we talk tonight and negotiate out shares of utilities. I haven't had a roommate since the crash-and-burn of the previous domestic situation, but I know this has a limited timetable and I'm feeling ready.

But now I need to figure out how to consolidate two rooms worth of bachelorette living into one. Furniture starts getting moved and rearranged. I find some things I can throw away, or try to give away. It gets later than I thought, but the feral cats in the yard are fighting so it takes awhile to fall asleep as it is.

night 4...
I have an extra bed in the spare room that I was going to try and cram in a corner somewhere but a friend's friend just moved down the street from me and needs something to sleep on, so he comes over, decides it's perfect, and we cram the mattress into his hatchback just barely. The boxspring won't fit, however, so on our second trip we end up deciding to tie it to the roof of my car hillbilly style, with two dry-rotted bits of clothesline I find in the garage. It's a long and slow couple miles up the street with him holding onto the rope for dear life and me hoping this doesn't slide down onto my windshield. I'm sure it provides amusement for the onlookers.

His new place is full of guitars and drums and bikes and records and roommates. They play in a band or something, and they invite me to stay for dinner. I go home and bring over an attempt at sweet potato fries that doesn't work but still tastes good, and a bowl of hummus. They grill me some amazing steak and onions and we sit on a patio over a storefront that reminds me of friends' photos of rooftop Brooklyn parties, listening to My Bloody Valentine and I feel like I've known them all my life, it's that comfortable and weirdness-free. I'm amazed that we see so many stars considering that there's car dealerships on the other sides of the walls that aren't old apartment buildings.