The other night I was riding on a tram somewhere in Greece, and I was just about to fall asleep when I looked behind me and saw a lady checking tickets. The other passengers held out their tickets and IDs but she didn’t even look at them, just walked by each person nodding and smiling. When she got to me I pulled out a pile of expired tickets and she said something I didn’t understand. Just then we pulled up to the next stop and she asked if I would like to step out to get some coffee. I couldn’t tell if I was being fined or not, but I went along anyway. She linked arms with me and we walked to an ice cream parlor (instead of a coffee shop, as initially suggested). I told her it was my treat and we spent a good half hour deciding what to get from the hundreds of unlabeled flavors presented in the glass case. I asked if she always went out for ice cream with fare jumpers and she said she only stopped passengers on trams that were headed to the airport, or to the sea. She mentioned going to the theater next but by that point I was concerned I would be missed at home. When I told her I had to leave she didn’t like it, but there was nothing she could do — I’d purchased my freedom with the price of the ice cream cone.
Riding my bike into KCMO the day after I get back, taking stock of the city and how much and how little it has changed. The laundromat on 43rd street has finally closed, most likely remaining in operation right up until the last of its 50 washers and driers finally bit the dust. The tattooed crowd outside the tattoo shop have not died of nicotine poisoning just yet. Blockbuster Video is somehow still in business, and the Westport covered wagon looks as regal and ready-for-takeoff as ever. Streetside has closed down but the red neon lights above the door are still turned on, as if the building is not yet ready to relinquish the life it once contained. Bikers in KC are much less rigid than those in Germany, making lazy figure eights across Westport road before picking a side street to pedal down. Two fat women in floral print dresses waddle out of Rudy’s taqueria, shouting to each other in voices that have only grown more hoarse over the last three or four decades. Crooked sidewalks with grass and weeds growing between them, the smell of freshly mowed lawns and truck exhaust. When visiting friends you don’t have to search for people’s name plates or doorbells on apartment buildings, you just park your bike and walk right up to their front doors. Dropping by unannounced isn’t done very much anymore, but I have an excuse as long as I don’t have a cell phone. There aren’t any bike lanes, but if you cheat on the traffic signals you can break ahead of the traffic and for a few glorious moments glide down the middle of the smooth paved streets until your survival instincts prompt you to front wheelie it up onto the sidewalk.
Though it has likely been observed and pointed out thousands of times already, it nonetheless bears repeating: the former allied spy station on top of the Teufelsberg looks like a giant cock-and-balls.
The remains of the station sit atop an 80-meter-high rubble hill in Berlin’s Grunewald forest, beneath which is buried the foundation of a Nazi officers school designed by Albert Speer. At the risk of mixing bodily metaphors, it’s hard not to wonder if the outpost’s phallic shape was designed as something of a middle finger to the Soviet forces on the other side of the city.
Sneaking into the Teufelsberg and climbing the radar towers has become something of a rite of passage for young Berliners, and a few years ago Jenny and I roamed around the premises until she got spooked by the howling sounds of the wind billowing through the torn fabric. On our visit last month we didn’t feel like trespassing, opting instead to just bask in the ballsy brilliance of this most peculiar cold-war monument.
No one seems to know what the future holds for the site, after attempts to develop it into a luxury hotel and a transcendental meditation center have long since been scrapped. Meanwhile the allure of the place only grows — an elegantly decaying fortress on the hill that is easily one of the most unusual erections in Europe.
Jennifer and I got to Lisbon on Easter Sunday. We thought everything would be closed but there were several discount shoe stores doing a brisk business and a guy in a three-piece suit levitating above Rua Augusta.
That night we checked into This is Lisbon (awkwardly but not inaccurately referred to on their website as a “charm hostel”) where we were treated to (paid a nominal fee for) a dinner of traditional dishes and a performance of Brazilian music by a trio of guys the hostel employees were friends with. After the concert we talked with the musicians for a while and wound up accompanying them to a bar in the Alfama neighborhood, a labyrinthine remnant of Moorish times and one of the only areas in the city to survive the 1755 earthquake.
We stopped outside a door where a few people were smoking cigarettes but that was otherwise unremarkable. After Gonzalo pounded on the door a visibly drunken woman opened the door and ushered us in to a packed, steamy room where people were drinking and dancing to the sounds of some of the happiest, most uplifting music I ever heard. Two guys playing guitar and singing, another playing bass and a fourth playing percussion, if I remember correctly.
After they were finished the singer told me it was the music of Bonga, an Angolan who came to Portugal as a track star in the sixties but later turned to music, which got him in trouble with the Portuguese regime at that time. The next week I found a copy of his album Angola 74 at the Thieves Market, and was able to identify the song I heard as a cover of his song “Marika.” When you listen to it you might be able to get a taste of what for me was one of the most enjoyable Easters since the good Lord rose from the grave.
Napping… without any church bells to mark the hours. Waking up and hitting the wordpress after seven months in Chateau D’If.
Now I’m back in Kansas and it’s time to get back to business. I have not posted here in the last few months for two main reasons. One, I did not have routine Internet access. Two, I was not sure exactly what to post in the first place.
In the past I have written about my life and travels in an amusing and somewhat journalistic fashion. This is what I did, this is something you should listen to, here are some photos and captions. All the time writing what are likely much more interesting or at least experimental things in various notebooks, loose sheets of paper, the walls of my sequestered, high-security compound.
It’s time to come out of the closet.
What I mean is there is no point in posting personal writing if it’s not going to be somewhat personal, no point in squirreling away the only nuts that might be worth hatching. But personal as in what I had for lunch is quite boring, and you can always get that on twitter. Persona as in the various modes and moods we all pass through each day, the in-between states in which actually interesting writing arises.
Of course blogging is all an experiment, and I must admit to being currently under the heavy, heady influence of the likes of Bernard Soares (whose city and dream states I just visited) and Joe Joubert (whose writing and nasal bridge I admire). I plan to vary the length of my posts but remain consistent in the frequency with which I post — daily, at least during the week, and sometimes probably more. The photos of Natalya Bond aka Jennifer Wetzel will still play a big part.
Please post comments, and feel free to be as contentious, uncomplimentary or long-winded as you like. I’m not posting on behalf of my ego, so you don’t need to comment just to tell me something is well-written if you don’t feel like it. On the other hand, I’m posting almost entirely on behalf of my ego, so I plan to be as arty and pretentious as possible when the occasion arises.
In conclusion, it’s good to be back in the Midwest, to be working in newspapers and publishing again, to have a high-speed connection between the inside and the outside worlds. I’ve always compared blogging to peering into and looking out of windows, so I’ll most likely be talking and linking back to you as well.
Love from Westwood, and good to see you again.