I’ve been giving something a lot of thought lately. The issue I’m wrestling with isn’t an easy one. It has te potential to change my conception of myself as a man, my identity, my life itself. I’ve consulted some friends, and others close to me, the ones who know me best.
The question is this:
Am I the kind of asshole who wears a cravat?
Increasingly, I think the answer may be: yes.
Hear me out.
I’ve long wanted to wear a cravat. Ever since watching Scooby-Doo as a child, I would sit and stare at that strange piece of red mystery that hung from Fred’s neck, just above his proud, jutting chest.
“Wow!” I thought ot myself as a six-year-old. “What is that?”
That was just a tiny slice of panache. That was flair: deep, manly, heterosexual flair. That was the human equivalent of a lion’s mane.
And I wanted it. I wanted it so very badly. That red exclamation point of virility. But my mother sat me down and explained why I couldn’t have one. Cravat’s were extinct, she told me. They died out in the sixties, the last having been seen worn by George Lazenby.
And so I packed up my dreams of wearing a cravat. Packed them up and hit them away in that part of myself where I stored all my other childhood dreams. We all have that special cabinet within ourselves, don’t we? THat place where we store teh dreams of being a fighter pilot, a Jedi Knight, a cowboy. The dreams we still take out and play with now and then. I thought my childhood dream was safely stowed away forever.
Until I came to Berlin.
And here, at the dawn of the 21st century, on the cusp of a new era for humankind, the men of Berlin have cast off the shackles of a low and meager past, and turned their eyes to the bright new tomorrow…nay, *today* of the cravat. They are *everywhere*. They crowd the street with color and light, and once again men produly assert their masculinity with that splash of insouciant color around the neck.
They are, in a word, total assholes.
The kind of asshole I want to be.
My greatest fear is that when I return home, people will say that I’m still the same asshole who left. But with a cravat, people will say “He left for Europe for a few months, and now he’s the sort of asshole who wears a cravat.” And I hope before I get myself killed on my journeys (there actually is sort of a prophecy about my demise, more on that later) I’ll accidentally impregnate some lucky girl with the Son of Vagabond. And I hope when he’s old enough he’ll turn to his saintly mother and ask:
“Mom? What kind of an asshole was my dad?”
And she’ll look soulfully off into the deistance, into the mists of time where the memoryt of one passionate night in Kuala Lampur resides and she’ll say: “Son, your father was the kind of assjole who waore a cravat.”
And he’ll grimace, and sigh and say “Oh. *That* kind of asshole.”
Yes indeed, brothers and sisters. That kind of asshole.
They cost 6 euros at Esprit.
I keep wishing I had some tale of international intrigue to entertain you guys with, but it keeps failing to materialize. I go on the Third Man Tour of Vienna, and our guide informs us of two very interesting facts: Harry Lime is modeled on the British traitor Kim Philby, whom Graham Green was friends with (and refused to betray), and Vienna was home to 2500 spies during the cold war. Hearing this, I put on a shirt that reads “Hapless American Tourist Seeking to get Caught in Web of International Intigue. Ask me About Smuggling Microfilm into West Berlin in my Luggage.”
Grover: Oh, I’ve been to Prague. Well, I haven’t “been to Prague” been to Prague, but I know that thing, that, “Stop shaving your armpits, read the Unbearable Lightness of Being, date a sculptor, now I know how bad American coffee is thing… ”
Jane: They have good beer there.
Grover: “… now I know how bad American beer is thing.”
A friend asks me if I’ve OD’d on culture yet. Rather than give one answer, I’ll give a couple. The truth of the answer will vacillate between the possible responses in an unpredictable manner, inhabiting a quantum field of probability that collapses only into one definite choice when you do something as uncouth as observe:
1. No. I don’t think I can. I’m a little done with museums at the moment, but I want more world and more time. I want to stuff my eyes full of wonder, I don’t want to ever stop, I want to do as much as I can with what time I’m given. No, I haven’t OD’d on culture, and I feel sorry for the person that can.
2. No. But it happened to a friend of mine after the Modern Art Museum in Vienna. It happened like this:
“How is he?” I asked. Sergei just shook his head. Gary had that wild-eyed look, the psychotic grin that only comes from thinking that you’ve seen beyond the veil, toothy and lop-sided. The sort of grin that says you’re ready to try out some new, stupid ideas that were already stale fifty years ago.
“Not good. He’s OD’d on German conceptual art!”
“Goddamnit! Quick! We need 20 hours of Loony Toons, stat! Get me a beer, something Canadian and unpretentious. And for god’s sake someone give him some gum to chew.”
Sergei faithfully produced a stick of Juicy Fruit while Sally ran for the beer and the DVD. Gary continue to gape as I forced the gum into his mouth. “Why don’t I have a monocle?” He asked. “Everyone used to have a monocle…I’ve seen the most amazing things. I’ve smelled colors. Tasted sounds.”
“Sure you have, asshole,” I pushed his jaws together, grinding the gum between them. “Now *chew*, goddamn you.”
The gum started doing the job, absorbing the pretentiousness coming out of his mouth. It’s impossible to take yourself *too* seriously while chewing gum, which is why it’s such an important first treatment of cultural OD. I’ve seen some cases brought all the way back to normal just by getting the subject to blow bubbles (try discussing aesthetic dialectics with a bubble exploding onto your goatee) but he was still talking seriously about opening up an artists commune in Bend, Oregon, so we hit him full force with as much Daffy Duck as we could find. That brought him round. He shook himself.
“Whew. Thanks guys,” the wild look was fading from his eyes. “For a minute I wanted to take us all to a Luis Bunuel festival.”
That’s the thing about culture, and, in particular, Kultur. Too much of it, on your own and unsupervised, can cause you to retreate into yourself entirely.
3. Yes. Heroin will fry your synapses if you do it too much. It fries them because you’re synapses can take only so much pleasure at one time, and after a certain point you’re absorbing more stimulation than your brain knows what to do with, and it overloads. As with pleasure, so with beauty. We know this much beauty exists in the world. We know it and we force ourselves to forget, because to be fully awakened to the beauty of the world would be to walk around in a daze, stupid grins on our faces, muttering “Gosh” quietly every so often. I knew there was this much beauty in the world, but I deliberately made myself forget. But now, confronted full force, with it, unable to hide from it, it is overwhelming and my brain and body don’t know what do with themselves. It changes you, particularly when you can sit in the Belvedere Museum alone for three hours staring at Klimt with no one to tell you they’re hungry or tired, as you forget that you’re hungry and tired, forgetting everything but beauty, beauty overwhelming, until you’re lost mate, lost beyond the hope of redemption.
Having other people around is both good and bad. People are a normalizing influence on us. They keep us from going off the deepend. They help remind us that we’re full of shit (and we are all so very full of shit). But that same normalizing influence that keeps us from becoming too much of an asshole, too much enamored of the soud of our own voices, the sound of our own typing, this normalization also keeps us from becoming extraordinary.
I have no illusions of being extraordinary. But ODing on this much inspiration, this much beauty, without a safety valve, is also an exhilirating thing.
Because I never saw that girl again:
Although we’re heading to Vienna, this must be a German train. It’s obvious the second I step onboard: the posh seats, the plastic tables, the service menu, the reading lights, the onboard television, the electrical outlet, the hard plastic luggage racks, the LCD display alerting you to the name of the next station and expected arrival time. If all this weren’t enough to give it away, the train does something I haven’t seen any train do in the fifty days since I’ve been travelling, not in Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia or Hungary.
The train leaves the station EXACTLY ON TIME.
Off: to Vienna this time, a short three hour trip. Christ, is there any more wonderful sensation than that of being on a train as it slowly increases velocity out of the station? Possibly the feeling of being on a boat as it casts off its moorings. Or that sudden orgasmic eruption of acceleration that comes as an aircraft takes off. I’ve never sat on the top of a rocket as its mains fire and begins its long ascent into orbit, but I’m excited to try it.
I wept bitter tears at the thought of leaving the beauty that is Budapest. I’d known beauty like that existed in the world, known, but forced myself to forget, because if we knew how beautiful the world is we would be constant slaves to beauty, we’d be lotus eaters, gorging ourselves on the wonder and glory that the Chain Bridge, los Torres del Paine, the Hagia Sophia, the Parthenon, the Aegean. If we knew the beauty that awaits us we would all weep as I did last night every damn minute we’re stuck in a fucking cubicle. We forget because we have to if we want to earn daily bread.
But one thing, brothers and sisters: somedays, we AWAKEN. We awaken to beauty and truth and reality, and this awareness is its own blessing and its own curse. For one thing, it leads one to rhapsodize philosophic like an asshole for hours on end.
[Ed note: Thanks. We’ve noticed.]
[Auth note: Fuck you. Who’s writing this blog, anyway?]
[Ed note: Apparently someone with a split personality…]
I don’t know what beauty awaits us in Vienna, brothers and sisters. I can’t believe it could compare with the incomparable glory that was Budapest (Go. Drop what you’re doing. Divorce your wife, quit your job, give the kids up for adoption, abandon everything and GO, you motherfuckers, even if it costs you everything, if you have to live in poverty the rest of your life). But I would not have guessed Budapest could be what it was, nor that Novi Sad would have the world’s most beautiful women,
They tore down the statue of Stalin first thing when the Soviet troops left. Sawed it down at the ankles, leaving only the boots, which remain, collosal boots that greet you as you enter Memento Park, Budapest’s collection of Communist-era statues. Altogether fitting to see this place now, in the summer of 2009, the 20th anniversary of Hungarian independence from Soviet rule. And of course, I’ve forgotten my camera. The statues are all of a type: square-jawed Soviet supermen grasping hands with noble, but inferior, Hungarian laborers. Steely-eyed men with hands raised pointing the way toward a bright utopian future of torture, land confiscation and forced industrialization. I’m sure the official story was that the Hungarian people spontaneously erected the statues in thanks to their Russian brethren for helping them cast off the yoke of German occupation and put on the yoke of Russian occupation. Given the seething hatred for the Russians you can hear coming from the tour guide’s voice, a hatred apparent in almost every guidebook, every document about the Communist past, it really is an impressive feat of restraint that the Hungarians didn’t immediately destroy these statues. But they view this place as a memorial to a dark age of slavery and repression, a time that they forget only at their own peril, a past that must be preserved and remembered because to forget is to become slaves again, to be conquered again. And that is something the Hungarians will never allow. They are the most fiercely democratic people I’ve met, the most rabidly free. They fight tyrrany with every weapon in their arsenal, with irony, wit, remembrance, creativity.
The gift shop sells a T-shirt with the words “East Park,” depicting the heroes of the Soviet Union, Stalin, Lenin et al, as South Park characters. Devastating. Tyrants never have a sense of humor about themselves, which makes humor the best weapon against them.
They also seem to love vampire novels here. Specifically, erotic vampire novels. I’ve seen ads for three separate books by three separate authors in the subway stations. They’re all over the bookstores as well, simply mad about them. To be expected, perhaps, since it is Hungarian that gives the word ‘Vampire’ in the first place, and living in this city, surrounded with its thousand year history, awe inspiring architecture, and infused with an obscure, inscrutable language, one must believe in all kinds of monsters here. The organist plays Bach’s Tocatta Air at a concert at St. Stephen’s. Of course he does.
Do not ‘visit’ Budapest, as I have. It is imposible. One cannot visit this place and expect to see even a tenth of it. One must live here to really see it, I think. When you come, you will buy an apartment in the posh area around Parliament, for 100,000 euros. You’ll buy a bike, too, since this is the best way to see the city, and allows you to avoid the Budapest cabbies, may God forcibly sodomize them all with his most mighty and divine wang. You will buy th best camera you can afford, and the largest hard drive available, and you’ll need both, and you’ll spend a lifetime trying to record the beauty of this place. It will take you six months to be able to order food and understand basic instructions in Hungarian. Within a year you’ll be able to pound out basic sentences. In another year you’ll be able to enjoy Hungarian TV. But you’ll never speak it well. You’ll dance with locals on the shores of the Danube, dance until 5am, until they put on “Summer of ’69,” because really, there’s only so much a brother can take, and you’ll walk home and watch the sun come up over the Danube, AGAIN, as joggers pass you on their way to work.
And this will change you.