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Oktober 24., 2006

10:15 am - [rant] fucking the system (by begging it for spare change)
So, what's the deal with these punk kids (I mean that literally, not as some generic term of condescension) who are constantly asking for money in subway stations and train stations? They were all over Vienna, I saw a few in Budapest, and there were throngs of them in Stuttgart and Berlin. And why do they constantly keep large dogs about them?

It's not as if they're simply a few euro short of buying a ticket to their destination; in Vienna, I was repeatedly asked for extra coin by the same people, day in day out, over the course of weeks. For one thing, I can't bring myself to give someone money for no reason whatsoever, no matter how pitiful they look. There's no good that can come of financially supporting a system like that, no matter how small a donation you make. Even at it's least harmful, you just encourage more of it. And at the extreme, there are parts of the world where begging can be so profitable compared to the poverty in which the average person lives, that parents have their children's legs amputated shortly after birth. It's considered a career move. I certainly don't want any part of that. It breaks one's heart to simply walk by a man dragging himself pitifully along the ground by hand, but to give him money is to reinforce the thinking that likely made him that way in the first place.

And then these asshole punks I see all over the place. I hate to sound so conformist, but GET A FUCKING JOB. Seriously. You're all able-bodied young people, there's absolutely no reason for you to be begging in the street. What, do you consider manual labor beneath you? I would find that hard to believe, given how much you seem to idolize communism. That hammer and sickle on the patch crudely-sewn onto your ubiquitous leather jacket? It wasn't chosen just for its looks. Maybe this is just my protestant upbringing showing through, but there's really no such thing as a dishonorable job (barring of course, things like human trafficking, or professional puppy kicker).

What's that you say? You can't bring yourself to support a corrupt system by taking part in it? Well how is begging The Man for scraps from his table any better? You don't like the way things are? Fine. Do something about it. Get a shit job and try to improve the conditions for you and your fellow workers. Start a union where one doesn't exist. If you really are as extreme as your obnoxious hairstyle might suggest, you probably won't mind getting blacklisted. You might even wear it as a badge of pride, instead of that faded Dead Kennedys logo on your back.

That doesn't suit you? Find an abandoned building, clean it up and turn it into a squat for people with no place else to go. Organize a food co-op, get a job at a no-kill animal shelter (many of you already seem to like dogs), fuck, pick up litter off the street and carry around a donations jar while you do it, just do SOMETHING. There, that's four ideas off the top of my head, and I didn't even have to stop typing to come up with them. Since you've got so much free time, I'm sure you can come up with even more.

But they won't, will they? It's far easier to sit around annoying people with actual places to go until they've scraped together enough for a 6er of the local brew, or another couple patches proclaiming allegiance to various bands and/or ideological movements. It's easier, and more fun, to sit on your ass and talk about how the man is keeping you down and getting in my way when I'm trying to make a connection to the train that's about to leave. You say you want a revolution? Great. Fucking make it happen. I never heard tell of a revolution that up and started itself, and you're sure as hell not going to get there by sitting on your ass and working a bottle of glue into your hair.

There is, however, at least one branch of beggar-culture to whom I'll happily empty my jangling pockets: the buskers. I've met a fare share of them on my travels thus far and, with any luck, I've still a few yet to meet. First, the musicians. These folks inject a bit of local culture into even the most pedestrian of walks. In Paris, they played accordion folk music or jazz. In Vienna, music students would regularly gather in public spaces and perform slash practice, alone or in ad-hoc string quartets. In Hungary, old men stood in public squares or sat in parks playing clarinet tunes like those that inspired the likes of Mozart. Throughout Romania there was gypsy music, and even a guy who played a killer classical guitar. Then, of course, the street clowns. These guys are the clockers of the industry. If you play a musical instrument, and play it well enough to busk, you can probably play for hours at a clip, and you can probably improvise. But to put together even a 40 minute routine takes years to learn, even more to perfect. And then to do it up to 7 times a day, with the same enthusiasm, the same wit and charm, has got to be exhausting. These guys get my respect (and thus my coin) even more than the musicians. I don't know what else to say about them but, if one day you happen to see a crowd of people gathering around an oddly be-suited fellow in the street, you'd do well to stop and watch for a while.

So, thanks to all the buskers who've made my trip that much more enjoyable; you guys slave for every penny you get, in what's largely a thankless job. And, a big, hearty FUCK YOU to the worthless punks who beg me for money on the subway. You want my money? Learn to juggle.

That's all for now, folks, tune in next time for tales of adventure and intrigue in Bulgaria and Istanbul.
Current Location: Berlin, Germany
Aktuelle Stimmung: Is needing to piss a 'mood'?
Aktuelle Musik: Bugge Wesseltoft, streamed from his website

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Oktober 19., 2006

06:27 pm - lest I forget...
I seem to have skipped details of my adventures in Brasov, between Sighisoara and Bucharest. Brasov is the traditional jump-off for tours of the castles Bran and Rasnov. Bran is marketed as 'the' Dracula's castle, despite that ole' Vlad never set foot there. Nonetheless, it's a pretty cool castle, and really well preserved, since it essentially went directly from actual castle to tourist attraction, though for the home of a royal family it was rather spartan. Rasnov, though, is more a set of ruins, rather than a castle proper. It was still cool to clamber about the walls and imagine what it must have been like to defend against siege and whatnot. The rest of my time in Brasov chiefly involved hanging around Brasov proper with two American girls and an Aussie that I met on the tour of aforementioned castles. My experiences can pretty much be summed up in the following letters of apology:

Dear Kristin, Laura and Emily,

I'm really sorry about what happened at the dance club. I know you only had a short amount of time in 'civilisation', inasmuch as Brasov is civilisation compared to whatever backwater village you are stationed in. I know you wanted to meet some Romanian guys, at least to have some fun for the evening.

I can't help it; gay guys love my shit. They're inexplicably drawn to me. I'm like a gay magnet, a 'fagnet', if you will. You're all attractive girls (espeicially you, Kristin), and it should have been you who danced on the podium, not me. But you don't have the raw man-attracting power that my pheromones apparently have. It's a curse really. For what it's worth, I'm sorry, and I hope that the rest of your time in Romania is as awesome as it sounds to have been thus far.


Dear gay guys at the club we went to,

I'm sorry so many of you got the wrong impression of who I am. It's partly my fault really; this problem I have is something I've known about for a while. Don't feel bad that you got rejected (especially you, orange shirt guy); at the risk of using a cliché, it wasn't you, it was me. You couldn't help but be attracted to me--apart from my lust for the warm comfort that only a vagina can provide, I've got it all--a sweet ass, flat stomach, and I 'move like a snake' on the dance floor, according to Ána, my Hungarian friend.

Maybe that was the problem. Perhaps I shouldn't have thrown down as hard as I did on the dance floor. It was by no means 'all-out', but I probably could have toned it down a bit. I really didn't mean to break so many of your hearts out there. I just can't control this power that seems to live in the gyration of my hips. If only I could learn to use my powers for good...or at least to seduce someone with breasts.

In any event, I thank you for the sheer amount of alcohol which you bestowed upon me in vain hopes of getting my pants off, and I especially appreciate those of you who were thoughtful enough to include the girls I was with in your drink-giving. That was really nice, and if there had been any possibility of my going home with *any* of you, it would have been one of those guys.

Thanks again, (strictly fraternal)Love,

Current Location: Berlin, Germany
Aktuelle Stimmung: calmcalm
Aktuelle Musik: Bjork (I think?)

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Oktober 17., 2006

05:51 pm - mafia accommodation racket?
So I get off the train in Bucharest, Romania, and walk the 20 minutes to the hostel whose signs I'd been seeing since Budapest. Weaving in and out of stray dogs, I find the place, which looks ominously dark from the outside. I ring the bell. I wait. Nothing happens. I try the gate: locked. I ring again. Eventually a befuddled-looking man comes out and explains, apologetically that the hostel is closed for renovation. `But wait one moment, please´, he asks. I've nothing better to do, I tell him. A few minutes later he comes back out with a map, on which he's highlighted the location of another hostel that I can go to. At this point, it's getting dark, but I don't have a lot of options. Backpack in tow, I walk back towards the train station.

I find the road the hostel was supposed to be on. Nothing but parking lots and what looks to be the site of a recently-demolished building. As my hopes of finding the place fade (will I ever learn to book ahead? stay tuned and find out!), a voice turns my head. ´Welcome to Bucharest!´. Laughing at how touristy I must look, I thank him, and he eventually offers to arrange a room in someone´s house. We haggle over the price, coming to something mutually agreeable, and I follow him to an apartment building by way of an all-night cafe to pick up a set of keys.

The apartment was very nice by Romanian standards, and their spare room was immaculate, down to a couple glasses on coasters like in a hotel room. Apart from my initial skepticism about spending the night in a complete stranger´s house, the really off-putting thing about it was what happened when I went to hand the money to the woman whose apartment it was. Naturally, I expected that my ad-hoc realtor would receive a cut, but she hands him the whole stack of bills!

Based on the payment incident, as well as the following reasons, I have a strong suspicion that this was part of some organized crime racket.

1) The payment thing, as described above.

2) The man who found me the room was sitting in a contstruction site, drinking a beer with his 'cronies' (droogs, perhaps, in this part of the world?). It could well be cultural bias, but construction and organized crime go hand in hand like two mustachioed men in leather chaps at the Greenwich Village Pride Parade. Hoffa much?

3) Despite his blue-collar milieu, and in a country where an awful lot of people on the street dresses like they've just stepped out of a US Cold War-era propaganda film, my man is wearing nicely tailored dress pants, a tight black turtleneck and shoes made from some sort of exotic animal; crocodile, perhaps, or maybe snake. Definitely expensive and definitely mafia.

It doesn't seem like a lot to go on, but you didn't see the deference of this woman to this guy. He may not be a local don, he may just be a two-bit thug, but he's definitely got some sort of illicit connections. So, I'm not really sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, the mafia (doubly so in this part of the world) isn't particularly known for their kid-gloves approach to business affairs. On the other, though, as Jerry pointed out to me, In places like the former Soviet Bloc, parts of Japan, etc. it's not the inept and often corrupt police that keep the area safe for tourists (although the Brasov cops seem a good lot), but rather the crime syndicates. They don't deal in pickpockets and muggings--that's nickel and dime shit to them--so it's in their best interest to keep the streets free of petty criminals. Every Lei, Leva, Ruble, Yen, etc. you lose to street crime is just that much less you have to spend in their bar, their casino, on their drugs, on their hookers. It's certainly an interesting way of looking at things and Jerry tells me some of the safest places he's ever been were known-mafia neighborhoods in Russia. He´s got a passport that looks like a child´s art project--stamps and stickers all over the place--and he seems like a pretty on-the-ball fellow, so I'm inclined to take his word for it. All the same, the look in the woman's eye as she handed him those bills, I felt somehow dirty that I was potentially supporting a system like this. I hope she got at least something out of the deal, if not for herself, then for her kid.
Current Location: Stuttgart, Germany
Aktuelle Stimmung: crushedcrushed
Aktuelle Musik: Wu-Tang Clan (Ain't nothin' ta fuck wit)

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Oktober 13., 2006

03:23 pm - more notes from Romania
Sighisoara, Romania
Recapitulation: Birthplace of Vlad Tepes, and possibly the highlight of the post-Vienna trip (thus far).

The medieval old town is a sight worth the trip itself, but what totally made it for me was the 4x4 trip through the rural areas outside Sighisoara. Not that Sighisoara is some sort of cosmopolitan Mecca. My guidebook doesn't even list a population count (not that the opinion of said tome is worth much anymore) and, on the streets, Soviet-made cars regularly vye for roadspace with tractors and horse-drawn carts. Understand, then, that when I say rural, I mean RURAL.

We were picked up from our hostel, myself and Jerry, the chain-smoking Hawaiian radar engineer whose passport is nearly full after only a year--with the expansion pack (more on him later EDIT: or maybe not.), by a dutch couple, Marko and his far-too-pregnant-to-be-doing-this-sort-of-thing wife, Donata. At first, I was a bit sceptical of how things would go; for the trip's price of 100 RON, I could have stayed three more nights in the hostel, and still had some left over for beer. My fears were soon quelled, however, and my money proved worth it as, in a mere seven hours or so I experienced parts of Romania I couldn't have found in 30 days on my own.

The trip consisted mainly of visits to old fortified churches, and the villages that surround them, built by Hungarian and Saxon knights to repel the advances of Ottoman turks, back whenever maurauding was fashionable. The towns have changed little since, though many of the Saxons' descendants have returned to Germany and gypsies have settled into their vacant homes, but the life of subsistence farming remains virtually unchecked by the passage of time, save a few decades where the Soviets forbade wine growing and forced everyone to work on the state-controlled factory farm.

The churches are awesome in the creepy sort of way that slowly decaying buildings often are. Even though their exteriors are crumbling, though, the altars remain in curiously immaculate shape, and over their pulpits I found strange and ominous symbols, including the eye-in-pyramid one finds elsewhere on the backs of one dollar bills and the websites of conspiracy nuts. Marko explained it as "the eye of god", but he's clearly never read David Icke. That, plus the inexplicably well-preserved altar, gave the whole place a sort of Shadow over Innsmouth feel, further compounded by how rigid a class system is still in place in these towns. Despite that the gypsies who moved in after the Saxons went back to Germany are essentially squatting, they are forbidden from using the churches, from even entering them, by people who are paid by the Saxon families from Germany to stay nearby and guard the place. As Donata pointed up a hill towards the cemetaries--seperate for Saxons, Romanians, and gypsies--I became aware of a crunching sensation underfoot. Looking down, I noticed that the ground seemed to be littered with snail shells, perfect little golden spirals. All these signs quite clearly point to Cthulu-esque dark rituals to me, and anyone with eyes to see. Call me paranoid, call me crazy, call me what you will. But these little villages have all the makings of a Lovecraft story. Or possibly a new world order.

But enough paranoid ranting. So, followers of international news will undoubtedly know that Romania and Bulgaria were recently confirmed for accession into the EU starting 1 January 2007. While this will largely be good news for both countries, I wonder what effect it will have on places like these that I visited, where shepherds live in simple wooden huts in fields that one needs a 4x4 to access. These shepherds, for the entry price of a few liters of beer, took us into their world of hand-milking sheep twice a day and making cheese in between milkings. To all outward appearances, they are not a particularly clean lot, but that's to be expected when the only running water for miles comes from a well 200 meters from your hut, and you spend your days wrangling sheep into the mud-floored milking corral. Nonetheless, the cheese they offered us was fantastic, and probably some of the healthiest I've had since leaving behind State College, and the amish dairy guy to whose raw milk products I had something of an addiction. The shepherds are concerned, explained Marko, that with accession to the EU, they won't be allowed to sell their cheese anymore (at present, you can find it on the shelves of any Romanian market), for reasons of sanitation. So to anyone from the EU who may be reading this, I ate an awful lot of that stuff, and nothing bad happened to me (well, nothing that can be considered cheese-related. stay tuned for tales of horror and tragedy, coming soon to my livejournal). Write your EU-councilpersons, or whatever sort of position exists for the redress of citizen grievances where you live, and demand that they leave these simple cheese-making people people to their delicious cheese-making ways.

I was going to go on, about the encroachment of "Taker" culture, into what was largely a "Leaver" lifestyle, as freeways are built etc. etc., but what's the point. It's things I think I might have said before and even if not, all this talk of cheese made me realize how hungry I was. Too hungry to write with any sort of intellectual depth about this sort of stuff. So, fuck it, we'll do it some other time. I'm off to find some kebap, even if it is Ramadan.
Current Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Aktuelle Stimmung: stressedstressed
Aktuelle Musik: 50 fingers hammering overstiff keyboards in an internet cafe

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Oktober 7., 2006

08:46 pm - proper planning prevents piss poor performance
Cluj-Napoc, Romania
In today's lesson, I learn the value of proper planning. By proper, I mean any planning. At all. I don't know why I thought it would be a good idea to take a train that would leave me, in the middle of the night, in a city whose language I don't speak, with no sort of accommodation reserved, only a pan-european guidebook that still lists Yugoslavia as a single country to assist me. Not even a fucking map.

Well, a few awkward conversations with strangers, and numerous wrong turns, and I came up with shit. First hotel listed: Booked solid. Second hotel: far too expensive. One hostel converted into another too-pricey hotel, and the second, well, if it does exist, it certainly doesn't exist on the street my book says it does. Wait, what's that, around the corner; another hotel? Whoa...that's an awful lot of stars for a guy who spent the past week in hostels. At that point,--the only other option being returning to the dodgy looking character with a toothpick in his mouth outside the train station, leaning casually against what I think was a Trabant, and begging for a place to stay--your humble traveler gave up hope of resting his bones on a mattress this night, and resolved instead that he would see the town anyways, night-time chill and light drizzle be damned.

Finding an all-night super market, I purchased some much-needed sustenance--some sort of processed meat product made to resemble sliced turkey breast, and make to taste like strips of cardboard used to line the turkey's cage, and a bag of goulash-flavored potato chips. I feel that exploring local cuisine is an important part of any travel experience. It's not a bad town, but I'm definitely glad I didn't shell out money for a hotel. Maybe if I'd found a hostel with staff as helpful as in Budapest, things would have been different, but that's the way things go sometimes. And of course, this is being written with the hindsight of 2 glorious days in and around Sighisoara (more on that to come).

At the time, however, it was incredibly terrifying, walking the inexplicably empty streets of Cluj in the darkness and rain, occasionally being growled at slash chased by the startlingly large number of stray dogs in this country, or being stopped by homeless guys (at least, it looked like they were homeless) who wanted my sweet American dollars. So it's a cold, rainy, starless night full of streets and people out of an F W Murnau film. Welcome to Transylvania.

Nonetheless, I had a fairly nice walking tour of the old city, until somewhere around 0400, when a pair of headlights flashed and a voice shouted something in a language I'll never understand. This is it, I thought, this is how they get you. Next thing I know, I'll be waking up in a bathtub full of ice...it turns out to be the cops, and I'm not sure if that's better or worse. Eastern European cops, while certainly better than in the days of the USSR, are not known to be especially corruption free, and my imagination immediately filled with fears of being stranded with an empty bank account, because I had to pay the fine for the ticketable offense of being a clueless foreign tourist. After spending an unnervingly long period of time looking through my passport, he eventually sent me into a cab with the promise that I would go straight to the train station to await my train. It sounds anti-climactic folks but, trust me, it was a downright white-knuckle adventure.

And if I thought the people on the streets of Cluj were creepy, I had another thing coming, arriving at the train station at 0430, and seeing them in the undead glow of flickering fluorescent lights. Seriously, it was like walking into the set of a George Romero film. I don't know what it was, but there were a shockingly large number of people with bandages over rather vital-looking parts of their anatomy, or entire sections of said anatomy missing. But I successfully negotiated my train ticket, and the car to Sighisoara was blissfully uncrowded, most likely due to my having taken the 0513 train. But whatever the reason, it was a welcome change from the standing-room-only double- (triple?) booked arrangements on some other Romanian trains I've taken. And it took me to Sighisoara, birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, and quite possibly the highlight of the Post-Vienna trip thus far. But that, my friends, is a story for another day. Until then, wish me luck getting across the border to Turkey, and finding a place to stay. I apparently haven't learned my lesson, but at least this time my train arrives at around 0830. Bon Voyage!
Current Location: see previous
Aktuelle Stimmung: see previous
Aktuelle Musik: see previous

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07:56 pm - Notes from the Road
It's been a long time, folks, but sometimes one just can't be bothered to sit down and type out his experiences of foreign lands whilst he's still traipsing about them. At the moment, I'm in Varna, Bulgaria, where I've spent the past few days chilling out on & in (it's still warm enough for swimming, though today was overcast) the Black Sea before leaving for Istanbul tomorrow. So here's a brief synopsis of some of my destinations thus far:

Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava is a pretty cool town; it's almost a shame that it's so close to Vienna. On the one hand, the Slovakians see a good bit of tourist trade from Vienna, as the Euro/SKroner conversion makes it relatively cheap, even with a train ticket. But on the other, Bratislava won't really ever be anything but a smaller, cheaper Vienna.

The architecture is relatively the same, with a bit of some truly hideous Soviet-era stuff (A little too much vodka that day, Comrade Architect?)--fortunately it's not only shockingly ugly, but also poorly-constructed, so a lot of it is in the process of collapsing in on itself--and the culture is relatively the same as well. That's a gross oversimplification, of course, but more or less true, based on the day and a half I spent here. I'm sure in non-Bratislava parts of Slovakia, there's more traditional Slovakian culture, but the old center of Bratislava feels just like Vienna, with more hills, and tighter streets.

There's a sense of doom here, of impending (continuing?) economic misfortune. Communism came and went, leaving the Slovaks with a shit economy & newly opened borders. That made it an attractive spot for budget-minded Austrians but, for whatever reasons--the Slovak Kroner gaining on the Euro, the standard/cost of living rising, etc.--prices are going up, and it becomes less and less attractive a place to come and visit. And that's no good for the Slovakian people, as I've never heard Bratislava being discussed outside of a cheap place to go from Vienna, for a cheap weekend of drinking. It's a shame, really; Bratislava is a pretty cool town.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest has a cool, laid back, if somewhat gloomy feel to it, or maybe it's just the language. But the architecture, too; Austro-Hungarian style buildings atrophy, fading memories of a once-great empire, and an improbably large number of bars in what appear to be vacant lots of buildings that may have been destroyed in WWII, or possibly more collapsed Soviet-era stuff. But precariously string up a couple rows of colored electric lanterns--safety code be damned--find some picnic tables and tap a keg of Dreher, and it makes for a hell of a cool place to drunkenly argue about the ancient debate of Grizzly Bear vs. Great White Shark with newly-made hard-drinking Aussie friends. And the buskers here are fantastic, possibly the best I've heard yet. Well, maybe not the best, but their pretty fucking good either way. And, in keeping with what has become a recurring theme of fecal anecdotes, A night of heavy drinking with Australians, following a dinner of traditional Hungarian cuisine (which was delicious, provided one likes onions), does not make for a pleasant morning after. I blame the horseradish.
Current Location: Varna, Bulgaria
Aktuelle Stimmung: calmcalm
Aktuelle Musik: techno, at the behest of the girl running the internet cafe

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September 20., 2006

10:39 am - God needed a Crocodile Hunter
As regular readers know, I have been in Austria for a while now; news of the English-speaking world often comes slowly. So, I found out today that Steve Irwin died. Fuck! I haven't felt this kind of melancholy over a death since Fred Rogers. From the first time I saw that khaki-clad bloke with goofy-looking grin creep across my TV screen and wrangle a Green Mamba, I was hooked. He may not have dealt in explosions, car chases, or gunfights, but the man was a real live action hero. And you can't help but smile watching him do his thing, with the child-like enthusiasm and seemingly-boundless energy he had. I don't know what it takes to get someone nominated for sainthood, but if someone tells me, I'll be happy to fill out the paperwork.

So shortly after finding out about his death (accidental stingray sting while snorkeling, for those that hadn't heard [tangent] I was shocked to hear of this, having swam with stingrays myself in the Cayman Islands. Hell, I licked one of them! But apparently it was a freak one-in-a-million sort of thing. [/tangent] ), I came across this page on a PETA-run website. Now, I'm blatantly unapolegetic in my hatred of PETA, but this really gets my knickers in a bunch.

While I see the reasoning behind what they're saying, what a bunch of douchebags (not brand new, fresh-out-the-box douchebags either. old, crusty douchebags in the medicine cabinet of some old-smelling (you know that stench I'm talking about) elderly woman with urinary tract infections.) do you have to be to dismiss offhand the man's life's work so soon after he's died?

Jealousy is a stinky cheese, my friends, and this PETA article reeks of it. They're jealous because Steve Irwin did more for endangered species and ecosystems than PETA could ever hope to. He personally bought thousands of acres of land in Oceania and America for the purposes of creating conservation reserves. Now, obviously you can do that sort of thing when you've got money rolling in from your syndicated TV show(s), but more importantly, he used his show to show people how beautiful the natural world is. That enthusiasm he lived with every day is contagious, and it inspires people to get off their asses and do something. All PETA ever does is wine and complain like a bunch of prissy little bitches and throw paint on people.

And that's the difference, folks. PETA is the Fred Phelps or Jack Chick of the conservation movement, preaching fire and brimstone with throbbing forhead veins and handing out judgements of damnation like free samples of bourbon chicken at the mall food court (ed. note: the writer is rather hungry at the moment, otherwise he would have made a much better simile. thank you for your understanding.), while Steve Irwin was the nun handing out condoms and hot meals to prostitutes at four in the morning. PETA is all about making you feel bad about your leather jacket, while Irwin was (damn, that's like the third time I've typed is and had to replace it with was) all about making you so excited about animals that you'd actually want to help them. Note to PETA: you'll catch more flies with honey...or does that phrase offend you? Either way, fuck you and the bio-diesel powered hybrid shitbox you rode in on. And for $DEITY's sake, stop sending that hippy in the hemp pullover to my house right when I'm cooking a dinner of dead animal flesh to try and convince me that man was meant to eat grains. (We were not, but I've got things to do. Elucidation of the virtues of a paleolithic diet will have to wait.) 'Cause next time, he's likely to get wrestled to the ground and force-fed raw pork.

And Steve, if they've got the internet in crocodile heaven, thanks for all you've given me and, more importantly, all you've done for the animals. Crikey, mate, we're gonna miss you. So long, and mahalo.
Aktuelle Stimmung: sad, angry, hungry. all at once.
Aktuelle Musik: "High Noon", Kruder & Dorfmeister

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September 11., 2006

06:12 pm - Hip-Hop and Muscle Cars
"I'll take you to the candy shop...de de da da..." Why do some thing get stuck in your head and stay there for hours...a riff from a song, a scene from a movie...I don't even like 50 Cent. I mean, I've nothing personal against him, and there's no question the man knows how to get a dance floor bouncing, but it's not really what I'd call my music. The Stones, the Stooges, Kraftwerk, P-Funk, Coltrane, that I could understand, but 50? It just doesn't make sense, why I can't get this song out of my head, after hearing it hours ago, and that through the window of the polish kid who lives downstairs.

Maybe I'm subconsciously homesick. Or maybe, no matter how hard you try, there really is no escaping the Zeitgeist, when Beyonce is frequently featured in the pages of the Kroner Zeitung, and kids from Belgrade follow the NBA closer than I do (not that that's all that difficult), and dream of owning a Plymouth Barracuda. Not that there's anything wrong with a good Hemi 'Cuda. I hope you get your wish, Victorio. Maybe someday we can drag.
Aktuelle Stimmung: weirdweird
Aktuelle Musik: (try as I might not to) "Candy Shop", 50 Cent

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September 7., 2006

09:03 am - Switzerland: got neutrality?
Switzerland is the expensive hooker of Europe. She wears Vercacé, and she'll fuck you broke, but damn if she isn't worth it. SFr 11.50 is an awful lot to pay for a McDonald's value meal, but who gets a Big Mac in Bern, especially when there are kindly middle-aged women giving out FREE homemeade swiss cakes and pastries? Seriously.

There I was, walking through the streets of Bern, trying to find the Einstein House--where Al lived when he wrote the paper on Relativity--when I hear someone asking me in German if I'd like some cake. I was nearly too stunned to respond, as I was rather shocked that I understood her without having to resort to hand gestures and asking "Bitte, langsamer" half a dozen times. (Rest assured, mom and dad, these language courses really are paying off.) But then I thought, what kind of question is that? Of course I want some cake! And my goodness, that's quite a selection you've got there, ma'am. Getting my wallet out, and steeling my resolve to how much this was undoubtedly going to cost--but if you've gotta drop a whole lot of cash, Mondkuche is definitely the way to go. Or maybe an Apple tart. And that thing with the strawberries on top looks delicious too. Shit. I´ve been in this town less than 3 hours, and I'm about to blow a weekend's worth of cash on empty calories and artery blockers. Well, I can probably sleep on a bench down by the river, or hole up in some construction site. It won't be glamourous, but I´ve got a sleeping bag, and I've gone for longer without a shower, so--Huh? what's that you say? Diese Küchen sind kostenlos? GRATIS? Say what you want about the Christian religion; the Evangelical Lutheren Church of Bern rocks. And so do their cake-baking abilities.

I eventually made it to the Einstein house, but I'd spent too much time gorging myself on free cake, and it was closed for the day so I only got to see it from the outside. Not that big a deal, I guess, as what would there really be to see inside? "This is it! This is THE chair he sat in when he wrote the paper!! Oh my God! I've never seen anything so beautiful in my--(faints)..." So, I've wandered around the city for a while, ate a bunch of amazing cake for free, and got to see a house that Einstein once lived in. It's about time to get my stuff from the locker at the train station and find a place to stay. But wait, what's that feeling deep in my thorax, right next to the duodenum--oh shit. Literally. [quick tangent: why do so many of my stories involve feces in some form or another? [/tangent] Never fear, there´s a McClean in the train station. Zwei Franken and a turnstile to sweet relief. And in case anyone was wondering, Swiss toilet paper knocks the socks off of its French or Austrian counterparts. It's no Charmin Ultra, but then what is?

My bowels voided, I'm once again ready to take on the city. But before I even make it out of the McClean, a stern sounding voice summons me back. Was I smoking in there, the 40-ish janitor asks? I don't understand--why would anyone pay two Franks to sit in a room barely 2 square meters to smoke a cigarette, when he could just walk outside? No, I tell him, that's ridiculous. Of course I wasn't smoking. Are you sure, he asks. Uh, yeah. Komm, Komm, he gestures, and I walk back to the stall, where he points to something on the floor, a wrinkled, rolled up piece of paper about the size of your pinkie fingernail. Then what's that, he asks. Oh. He thinks I was getting high. Well fuck. Now, of all the times I could have and probably should have gotten into trouble for circumstances relating to a controlled substance, this was not one of them. Not that it made a difference to this guy. What could I tell him, that no, clearly that's not my joint, as I would never roll a joint so poorly? I don't know what that is, I tell him, but that's not mine. Are you sure, he asks again. What is it with this guy? As sure as I was last time you asked that, buddy. Well, it's not mine, he says. Oh, well then we've got something in common.

When I walked into the stall, the red and green lights were on which, as far as I understand the light-language of train station pay toilets, means that it was unoccupied, but hadn't been cleaned since the last patron. I didn't mind; I'm not too picky about that sort of thing and, besides, I hadn't even showered since Vienna the day before. Ultra-hygenic bathroom practices were not my top priority at that moment. Clearly, then, whatever this thing was, it had belonged to the last person to use the toilet. Personally I didn't suspect it was anything drug related as, even if I were so inclined to use the pay toilets in the Bern train station as a makeshift opium den, I'd flush the evidence when I was done, as I'm sure any other half-competant drug user would. I didn't care to find out though, as picking up anything from a public bathroom floor is always a losing proposition unless said refuse has a president's face on it.

Not that any of that mattered to my janitor friend though. Throw it in the toilet and we can be done with it, I suggest, attempting to find a mutually agreeable resolution. I think we should call the Police, he counters. And then he grabs my shoulder. Now, I would have had no problem getting the police involved, except that in the best case scenario then, I would spend several hours while the police decided that this roach couldn't be linked to me in any legally-meaningful way, and send me off to find a place to sleep having missed the Terry Poison show I came there in the first place to see. [ed. note: Oh yeah, the show. we're getting there. promise.] But then he had to go and grab my shoulder, in a manner that no one would describe as friendly or gingerly.

I don't know the laws in Switzerland, but where I'm from, that's assault. Meaning, at this point I could kill him and probably walk. Sure, there'd be a trial, but when you factor in societal and racial factors (the guy was a middle eastern immigrant), I'd probably get away with it. Not even probation. The minority community would bitch about it until some other injustice came along, and then he'd be forgotten, just another tired, poor, wretched mass who didn't yearn quite hard enough. Nothing personal against immigrants or minorities, but let's be honest. I'm a white middle-class college student. Different rules apply. It's unfortunate, but anyone who's seen Law & Order knows how this stuff shakes down. At the end of the show, McCoy drinks bourbon by himself in a nearly vacant bar, and Lenny Briscoe says something pithy and sarcastic about holding truths to be self-evident and men being created equal. Fade to black.

Now, I'm not saying I wanted to kill him--he was probably just trying not to get deported--but I sure as hell wanted him to get the fuck off of me. I reach across my chest with my left hand, grab him about the thumb, and forcefully extend my arm down to about waist level. Now, he's got two options. Let me speak my piece, or try to spend the next two to four months doing his job with a broken thumb. Again, I wished this guy no harm, but when you physically accost strangers, they tend to get a mite self-protective. I don't know what or whose that is, I growl--still holding his thumb--but It. Is. Not. Mine.

I release his hand, and b-line for the exit turnstile. And the fucker jumps in my path. At this point, I seriously thought I was going to have to go Frank Shamrock on the guy. Fortunatley, for me, a man old-beyond-his-years with a life of desperation and hardship is no match for my season and a half of high school rugby. I shove the guy out of my way, and head straight for the nearest exit, as he dials the police, the nearest of whom I walk past on my way out. I went back after I assumed the shift had changed (the incident occured mid-late afternoon), and neither the janitor with a mop to grind nor the police he'd called would be around, retrieved my stuff, found a hostel, and made it to the Terry Poison show with time to spare. Ah yes, Terry Poison. I'd intended to write a lot more about the show itself but, honestly, if you've made it this far, I already owe you a beer (to be purchased in the country of my choosing).

Terry Poison at the Kunsthalle Dampfbadzentrale in Bern, and it's about as close to heaven as one can get on this earthly plane. Assuming heaven serves $11.00 drinks. C'est la vie. One doesn't need overpriced Stolichnaya to appreciate the other-worldly perfection of Terry Poison. Unless I've discussed it with you in person, you really can't understand how much I love this band; 90% of communication is nonverbal, and you really need the body language and facial expressions to glean a full understanding. It turns out, that the brains behind the operation is their producer, Bruno. While their stage antics were fantastic--and the lead singer is like Mick Jagger reborn as a statuesque Norwegian woman on stagee--the actual music-playing didn't require much technical proficiency. Not that that's a strike against them. If anything, it's a positive. I mean, here's a guy who knows he can make fantastic music, but realizes that a hell of a lot more people are going to want to listen to it if it's performed by a trio (although I hear they're looking for a fourth) of gorgeous ladies in varying stages of undress (at one point the lead singer was wearing nothing above the waist save four strips of carefully applied duct tape. be still my heart.), rather than a 5'6" stocky Jewish guy. With that sort of business sense, clearly this band is going places. Space is limited, folks, get on the bandwagon now.

So that was Switzerland; it's a terrible place to visit, but I desperately want to live there.
Aktuelle Stimmung: tiredtired
Aktuelle Musik: the sounds of the streets out my window

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August 30., 2006

05:18 pm - for anyone wondering
In case anyone was wondering, Vodka + RedBull is a hell of a drink. Some would argue that it's only good for partying and ribaldry (for which it is fantastic. There's something synergetic about this combination that liberates the carnal beast within us. Perhaps someone with a degree in neuro-physiology could research this...), but I submit that it's a hell of a thing to drink for a solitary evening of writing as well. Kerouac had Benzedrine, Hunter Thompson had Wild Turkey, and I've got ethanol and tuarine.

Not that your writing will be anything like Jack Kerouac; quite the contrary. Maeybe it's just being so near to Eastern Europe, but I can't seem to write anything without a Kafkaesque (I promise, I'm not using that word superfluously) bent to it. I blame the vodka. Not that I'm complaining. Though I'm probably in a minority here, I find Kafka to be absolutely hiliarious. Read "The Wall" and tell me you did anything other than laugh at its conclusion. If so, you´ve missed the point entirely. "The Metamorphosis"? (black) Comedic gold. The Freudians among you readers will likely have a field day with this, but that's okay. Your essence-before-existance approach leaves a lot to be desired anyway. So piss off and go back to fantasizing about fucking your mother.
Aktuelle Stimmung: depressed yet relaxed and ein Bißerl betrunken
Aktuelle Musik: "Route 4", John Coltrane

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