Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holocaust Memorial

The Last Coffee Shop

          The last coffee shop I visited was near the Hilversun train station. Not Hilversun Noord Station, the one three minutes south where I got off to make my transfer to Berlin an hour before and realized it didn't exist. Just plain Hilversun - the station commonly referred to as "Nenkbeench" or "Nobench" by the Dutch, as it is thought to be the only multi-platform station in the region, perhaps all of Europe, that offers nowhere for its passengers to sit while they wait for the next train.
          The coffee shop was called "Coffee Shop." A middle-aged Middle Eastern man of medium height and build was behind the bar - with exactly four feet of counterspace on either side of him, if I recall correctly. He was speaking in Arabic with three other men. He said, "hello" to Anthony and I. We said we wanted drinks and he pointed to the joints menu. I said lemon iced tea and he handed me a can of peach iced tea. We went to the back and rolled a joint from coffee we already had. Then I thought it best not to smoke in the shop, equating it to bringing your own six pack into a bar. Then  I thought it best not to smoke at all, equating it to purposefully making myself easily confused before engaging in an activity that I already failed at while I was less easily confused. The iced tea was terrible, like drinking the saliva of someone who'd been chewing gummy peach rings.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Tribute to Mr. Horvath

You, who
picked me up, plus one, from
the train station and did not
hesitate to put us both up for five
nights in your spotless living room.
You, who
had one of the largest pizzas
I have ever seen waiting on
your dining room table,
took us to the pub that night,
though you had to work
the next morning.
You, who
brought us along to your hometown
to meet your wonderful parents, who
had the best meal of my trip
ready to eat, and who got us
drunk on beer and Hungarian liquor
at two in the afternoon, and gave
us wine, more liquor, and cigars
as parting gifts.
You, who
drove us further, to another town,
and introduced us to more of
your family, warm and welcoming
despite hardly understanding us,
at the birthday party for your
one year old cousin, Bence.
You, who
drove us still further, while
we slept, to the hometown of
your girlfriend Anna, where you
took us to the party, a DJ
festival at an arena, and...
And Anna's parents, who put
us up that night in their
new home and fed us
breakfast in the morning.
And you, who
took us Go-Kart racing that
day on the fastest Go-Karts
I have ever seen.
You, who gave me perfect
directions (bus, train, bus)
to the airport, and showed
me the cheapest flight to
You, who
cooked for us,
fed us,
paid for far too much of it,
who let us use your washing machine,
even your toothbrush (just kidding... or am I?)
Mr. Horvath, you, I salute!

Take care, Peter. Hope to see you again soon.

Click here for some Budapest pictures (admittedly I may have gotten carried away with Picassa photo editing)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Looking Out the Train Window

            Daytime, whether I sat facing the engine or the (imagined) caboose, I could not shake the sensation that I was watching everything fly by in reverse.
            Night, the lit interior of the cabin reflected off the glass, and the flipped image of me looking out at a world moving backwards left me infinitely befuddled.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Prague Addendum (Velvet Anniversary)

              Because I was sleepy, I napped through the parade. I dreamt I was sitting on the end of a bench at the bottom of an escalator, whistling. An attractive young Czech woman dressed as a construction worker reached the bottom of the escalator, tripped, and stumbled on to the other end of the bench. The whole display appeared very contrived and purposeful. The rest of the construction crew exited the escalator smoothly and continued walking, disappearing into the crowd. I kept whistling, the same three or four notes over and over, and noticed the girl becoming agitated, until she abruptly stood, now visibly angry, and walked away. Instantly, it became clear to me that she had wanted me to talk to her. I got up and searched, but I couldnt catch sight of her. I only heard her mocking me, her whistle getting fainter and fainter.
              Czechs hate public whistling, but I dont think thats why my dream woman was angry. I have been told the parade ends near the Narodni Trida metro stop, which is where I will be going soon for a celebratory concert. I expect the music to suck. Or, at least, if it doesnt, it should suck, because that would be the most accurate depiction of what has happened in the past twenty years - if at Narodni, with one of the many fast food chains or clothing stores ("be surprised by seven floors of shoes¦") in the area as a backdrop, Miley Cyrus got on stage and everybody rocked out. Much of the city space and youth culture is now controlled by corporations. And, getting back to my dream, if I were Czech it would piss me off that so many people - even though it is right in front of their face - seem content to keep merrily whistling through the day anyway.
             Now I am heading over there, but when I catch the parade, I dont think it will just seem like Im celebrating the fall of communism. It will seem like Im also celebrating the rise of capitalism, and I will feel like a liar.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Taking a right off a crowded street, you suddenly find yourself alone on a narrow cobblestone road. In the stillness, you walk past a chalkboard sign advertising hot wine and beer in two colours, an open window where the smell of tobacco wafts out, a pigeon. Then there is a loud, grating noise in the distance, getting closer. You turn a corner and find several laborers digging up part of your path, and several others sanding it down. You move past them quickly, searching for the tranquility you had moments before, when you stumble upon a man blowing his nose. He looks at you and tells you that God is dead. Rather, God can be heard through a symphony, if you would like. If you would like, he can show you where you can refresh your cock and get six Pilsners for three hundred crowns.
You keep walking because you don’t trust someone who looks you in the eye and smiles so willingly. You take the escalator down to the metro. It is crowded, but quiet, except for some tourists, drunk on alcohol, or travel, or both. A young couple is leaned against the wall making out. The girl is wearing a pair of sparkling Nike hightops, the boy has his hair cut close, minus a patch in the back and a line down the middle of his head. There is a woman – wearing several layers of worn clothing and carrying a cane – with a dog that looks old and tired of slowly following her around all day. A metal muzzle surrounds his mouth, and you wonder if he would like to eat you with a side of fava beans.
You get off the metro and buy a hot chocolate from the Nescafe machines that line the wall, winking at Reese Witherspoon’s perfume ad as you take a sip. You go to the grocery store to buy dinner. The store smells like a heavily disinfected bakery, and Michael Jackson plays from the speakers in the ceiling. The lines are long, but they move quickly. Your groceries total 195 crowns. The woman behind the counter coughs and asks you if you have 95 crowns when you hand her a 200.
The cars threaten to run you over every time you step onto the crosswalk, but always stop in time, and you don’t take it personally, because it doesn’t seem like anybody else does. You open your three dollar pint of vodka and take a sip. It tastes pretty good, for three dollars at least. Later, when you put it in the freezer, it freezes.
The bar you are led to by someone who knows someone who knows of a place is tiny. But then there is a staircase, and a basement, and then a room off the basement, and then another staircase, and another room, and another staircase, and soon you can’t remember how to leave, but you don’t want to anyways. A vent would be nice, but by now you’re mostly used to the plumes of spliffs and cigarettes. You don’t want to get lost in the tram system again, and you don’t want to get ripped off by a cab driver, so you stay out until past five when the metro starts running.
To save time, you slide down the middle of the escalator when you arrive at the station, and a grumpy worker awakens from his brooding slumber in his booth to come out and yell at you in Czech. When the train arrives, it is mostly empty. You take a seat across from a woman and her young daughter. The girl is enthralled in some sort of handheld video game, and wearing a pair of knee high black boots, laced tightly. The mother is one of about five dressed for work, though they are in the minority to those that are sleeping, and soon you join the latter.
The next day, you curse the man who decided to make it legal to sell absinth, but not ibuprofen. Luckily, there are six Asian food restaurants within walking distance. Even though you feel a little guilty for interrupting the owner – in the midst of ironing when you enter – a hot, greasy pile of noodles is just what you need. Or, at least, you thought you did. You only finish half, and get the rest to go. The owner asks if everything was okay, and you assure her it was, and that’s why you want to save it for later, but this doesn’t seem to work, because you notice that she screams at the cook before giving you your check. You try and make amends by leaving a nice tip.

A Poem That Has Nothing to Do With Prague


The title of this document is Document2.
It is the second document I have opened
during this session of Microsoft Word,
that is why it is called Document2.
Also, it is because I have not given it a
name. This document has no name, so
it goes by Document2. Document2 is
the default name. I have no qualms with
default names, which is why I will
leave this document titled Document2.
Also, it is because I have written a poem
in this document called Document2.
It was named Document2 by default, but
now there is a reason. I once knew
a man who did this with his children. The
reason that I knew him was that I married
one of his daughters. Her name was Kid4.
The reason that he did this with his children
was never clear to me. I cannot say if it
was the same reason that I titled this
document Document2. If I had to guess I
would say probably not, because he was
not the type of man I expect wrote much
poetry. He was the type of man who
broke open floss containers and put the
whole spool into his mouth and chewed
it for hours. He was the type of man who
loved to scare birds by putting on a
rubber bloodhound mask. He carried that
mask everywhere. Kid12 once told me
he showered with it on. I cannot be sure,
because I never accepted his invitations
to shower. Kid12 didn’t seem like the
type of person to lie, though. He was the
type of person that wrote poetry, like me.

The Metro

I can't figure out how to embed video.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Second Load of Laundry

I was waiting for my laundry in the basement of the villa when a fat man in a speedo with a towel draped over his shoulder emerged from a room that I had assumed was a small broom closet.
            The clothes had been in the machine for nearly two hours, and I had made several trips down the stairs hoping they would be done, and the machine was on the spin cycle, so I had decided to stand and wait for it to finish rather than go back upstairs again, that’s why I was in the room. It’s not somewhere you would want to spend a lot of time. It’s about twenty-five feet long and eight feet wide. There’s nowhere to sit; in fact, the washing machine is the only thing there, alone in the corner as if our landlord decided to put it in timeout. Where the wall meets the floor there is an impressive collection of dead insects, many of which are large flies. The flies here, by the way, become excessively hyper, much more than I have ever experienced in Oregon, when they sense they are on the verge of being swatted with a grammar book.
            There are two doors in the basement. One is at the bottom of the stairs with a sign on it that says something in Czech. This is the one that the fat man emerged from. The other door is across the room, facing the washing machine. That is the one that the fat man walked to, opened, and entered, after a brief moment of eye contact with me (perhaps a slight nod as well, but I couldn’t be sure) in which he did not appear caught off guard in the slightest, so I attempted to appear that way as well. 
            I had noticed that the light was on in the room that he went into, and I had been hearing men’s voices coming from it. However, even though it was past nine o’clock, I had thought this was construction workers. They work incredibly long hours, and I remembered that there was construction going on in the villa. I remembered it quite vividly, because I was woken by a buzz saw beneath my window at six in the morning.
            Apparently they had been building a bath house, and apparently the broom closet was a changing room. I’ve gone back a couple nights since at around nine, and the light has been on in that room and there has been loud men’s voices coming from it. As you might have guessed, the situation has raised some questions, and the more I think about it, the more questions I have.
First off, why is there a bath house in the basement of my villa? Is this a common location for bath houses in Prague? And who are these men, the landlord’s friends, the construction workers, paying customers? How do they even get down there? I know they don’t use the front door. Isn’t this something the residents of the villa should be informed about? “By the way, when you do laundry, and have to head down that dark staircase that seems like its leading you to somewhere you don’t want to go, don’t be surprised if the closet door swings open and a large, half-naked man walks out.”
And why don’t we get to use it? Or, can we? Can I strap on a speedo, grab a towel, and soak up some steam with Pavel and the whole merry, hairy crew? What would they do if I just opened the door? It’s unlocked. There’s no sign. The other door is the one with the sign. I’m guessing it says something about not entering, but that’s fine. That’s just the changing room. I can change in my room. Sure, it’ll be a little chilly walking down two flights of stairs in a speedo, but I’ll manage. The warm steam will feel that much better once I get inside that bath house. Right, Pavel? Doesn’t this feel great? What’s that you got there, Pilsner? How about passing your old friend Ross one of those bottles? No? You’re right, I’m not really thirsty. Whew! What a day I had! How was your day, Pavel? Don’t feel like talking about it? Oh, that’s okay. We’ll just sit. I like sitting. Do you like sitting, Pavel? You must like sitting, because you sure don’t like talking, do you? I coulda swore I heard you guys just talking up a storm right before I came in. What happened? Did I say something?

Lennon Wall

....Near one of the entrances/exits to the Lennon Wall, there are the "love locks."

... And near the love locks, I came across these lovely young Czech lovebirds. Perhaps they had just come from affirming their love by snapping a combo lock onto the gate, but I doubt it, because I didn't see any fluorescent blue locks.

Fat Man Caught on Camera

Still no Charlie Weis, and he looks suspiciously American, but still a rare Prague specimen. Incredibly, just on the other side of this sign, there was a woman of equal size - something I have seen even less of - but I was unable to capture her on film.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Rain

Last night the rain came, like the murmur of old friends through my window. Best I've slept yet.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Wise Do Not Speak, They Watch

            Last Friday I got into a heated debate about what type of jacket a parka is. A girl from Michigan and a girl from Kansas claimed it was some type of gortex windbreaker, while I insisted (correctly, of course) that it was a heavy winter coat, lined with fur, with a large hood, also lined with fur; a guy from Seattle and a guy from D.C. supported these claims. This took place in the kitchen area of my apartment – at least, at first it did, for it continued long into the night.
Saturday afternoon at around two I was woken by someone using a weed-whacker down the street – not because the noise was loud, but because it reminded my brain of the sound my cell phone used to make when it vibrated against the floor and I didn’t want to miss a call – and I stumbled into the kitchen to get water. Upon lifting my head from the faucet, I noticed the microwave resting on top of the refrigerator was named “Alaska,” and I realized how absurd it had all been, how the whole time we could have ended the argument if we had only thought to turn our heads and ask.