There’s a “Myers-Briggs” personality test going around on the Facebooks these days. I usually don’t like divulging this sort of information, but I thought these results were cute enough to warrant posting. I think I might have gotten my results mixed up with McNulty from The Wire, though.
You got the result: Lazy Irresponsible Selfish Bastard
You’re off in your own little world. You give little if any thought to the feelings of others, leaving a string of bitter relationships in your wake. You smoke. You drink. You engage in compulsive acts of onanism far more than is strictly necessary to fend off prostate cancer. You don’t brush your teeth regularly. If the woman behind the counter gives you too much change, you say nothing. You don’t find children endearing. You have homicidal thoughts every few minutes. You’re in a state of constant inebriation. Friends and family sometimes try to find the good in you, only to find you’re not a hard shell with a soft, vulnerable center, but a bastard through and through. A bastard coated bastard with a creamy bastard filling. You occasionally kick puppies ’cause you’re in a bad mood. You reek constantly of cured ham and Mentos. Your lawn is dying. Once, in third grade, you put gum in a girl’s hair and she had to shave her whole head. This still amuses you. You do not take out the trash. You only like it when it rains. Your favorite activity is crushing the hopes and dreams of the young and idealistic. You’re no good for anyone.
You share these traits with Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski, Edna St. Vincent Millay, the Archbishop of Canteberry, former President Millard Fillmore, and Ghandi, who despite all the nice things people usually say about him, was a real bastard.
The overnight from Berlin to Paris gets in around 9am. I stuggle a bit with luggage and finding a place to eat, a place to store my luggage, and the intiricacies of buying a metro ticket, but I figure it out and head off to the Louvre. A friend in Berlin told me that the Louvre is free the first Sunday of the month, my first day in Paris, and in true Vagabond fashion I’m damned if I’ll give up a chance to see the Louvre for free.
Unfortunately, someone tipped off all the other tourists about the same offer. The Louvre is a lovely place. It has a wonderful courtyard, that looks like this:
It has some lovely statues, that look like this:
It has some wonderful archaeological artifacts of great importance to human history, and they look like this:
Unfortunately, it has a very long line to get in, which looks like this:
As I get into the Louvre’s majestic hallways, elbowing my way past fat tourists and craning my head to get a look at the finest artwork the human race has produced, I try to think of a single word that describes the experience of being in this place.
That word is “Clusterfuck”. Although this is France, so the correct term is “le fuq du cloustier”. You know those frat parties you’d go to as an undergraduate, in some house where the halls are too narrow and there’s three thousand people attending, maybe ten pretty girls, each surrounded by abouth 18 toe-headed jackasses that are trying to impress them? You’re a little disgusted with the girl for even bothering to talk to these meatheads when you’re *so* much more deserving of her attention, and you’re disgusted with yourself for not being able to think of a way to get her attention away from jackasses 3-19?
It’s a little like that, with the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo as the hot girls, and everyone on the planet as your competition.
In addition to the crowded conditions, everyone EVERYONE is using a flash. So while you’re trying to enjoy the use of light in a particularly fine Carvaggio, some retarded tourist standing next to you is merrily snapping away with his Canon, destroying humanity’s masterpieces one pixel at a time. The guards don’t seem to give a damn. I say a few choice words the first hundred times it happens, then resort to dirty looks, and finally just give up.
The whole experience was a bit like walking into Leonardo da Vinci’s studio and being forced to watch a parade of idiots casually toss buckets of water on his canvases. I’d have no problem with the fact that this sort of idiotic and destructive behavior is allowed, if I was allowed to march through the place with a hypodermic needle with some Drano. Not a lethal dose, mind you, just enough to take a few minutes off your life. A punishment commensurate with the crime.
As bad as the behavior is in the Louvre, the only time I come anywhere close to throwing a punch is in the Rodin Museum, where someone was so moved by the artistry of one of the sculptures that he GRABS IT WITH BOTH HANDS. No guards present. If they were, I don’t think they’d care much.
Rodin fan that I am, I have only one mature, responsible option open to me.
I shove the guy.
I shove him with both hands, not hard, but enough to make sure he gets the point. “You can’t touch the statues!” My voice is somewhere between enraged and incredulous. He’s looking at me like I’m nuts. Does this guy really not understand the concept of not putting your grubby little fingers on a masterpiece? At his blank stare, I can only shout again, “You can’t touch the statues,” ommitting “You fucking retard” because I’m still a relatively nice guy. I follow him around a bit to make sure he doesn’t do it again, and also to teach him the lesson that, in any museum in the world, you might just run into some psychotic American that will have no compunction about getting physical with you, should you decide to get physical with the art work. Seriously. We’re the country that, when attacked by terrorists, will invade other countries just because we’re feeling bitchy and feel like killing something.
We’re nuts. And we’re everywhere. And some of us love Rodin.
So if you want to do the human race a favor and preserve some of our cultural heritage, my only recommendation is this: take a trip to Paris as soon as possible, and steal as many artworks as you can. Donate them to Berlin, where any infraction in a museum will be met with swift Prussian vengeance.
Later I get drunk in front of Notre Dame. That’s a different story.
I just watched GI Joe yesterday, in the theaters, at the cost of euros 7.5. I’m not quite sure why I thought this was a good idea, other than that the movie was in Spanish, and I thought it would be a good way to get an earfull in a simple context where I knew what the jokes were going to be and what the plot was and all that.
Also, I was just tickled pink in Paris to see ads for this movie ALL OVER THE CITY. They look like this, except in French, so GI JOE: Un bon homme de les Etats Unis!
Is it just meet, or does it look like Evil has a much nicer ass than Good? I’m guessin Cobra throws much better company holiday parties than the Joes. The Joes are probably all busy doing chinups and eating plenty of fiber and reading the bible or monitoring global conflict hot points or something. Cobra’s probably snorting lines of blow of each other’s breasts while photocopying their asses and Destro’s calling the escort service on while Shadow Cat is prank-calling Bill Gates. I’m not saying I’m pro-Evil, I’m just saying that while GI Joe is who you want to call whenever there’s trouble. Cobra’s probably the one to call when you need…you know…a CONNECTION.
Also, this movie reinforces a longstanding rule I have: Dennis Quaid doesn’t make good movies. At least, not since Innerspace. Sometime around 1990 the switch flipped in his head and he stopped doing stuff like Great Balls of Fire and The Right Stuff and opted for movies like Undercover Blues and Dragonheart.
Sidenote: despite being a terrible movie (and having Dennis Quaid), Dragonheart also has the voice of Sean Connery as a FUCKING CGI Dragon! Which is pretty awesome. Awesome in a bad way, of course, but awesome nonetheless. That’s another movie I saw in the theater for some reason. Also, the bad guy in that movie is pretty much the same character as the effete son from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the one who doesn’t want huge tracts of land and only wants to sing, which doesn’t make for a great counterweight to a Sean Connery-voiced dragon. Also…why are we still talking about this?
Sidenote to the Sidenote: A similar switch seemed to get thrown in Connery’s head around 1990, when he stopped making movies like Indiana Jones and Hunt for Red October, and decided to go with Medicine Man, Entrapment and Playing by Heart. Maybe him and Quaid switched to the same agent? Or perhaps there was an international conspiracy that year to take control of the minds of the world’s actors and force them to make crap. Hey, it’s more likely than the plot of GI Joe.
End second interior sidenote.
So…where was I? GI Joe. Don’t go see it. It’s not even the best movie based on a toy. That would have to go to Clue. And I can’t even say its the best movie based on a television show that was a glorified commercial for action figures, that goes to He-Man, with Courtney Cox and Dolph Lundren. It may be the best example of Sienna Miller in tight pants for an extended period of time, if you like that sort of thing (sidenote, I do) and does an excellent job of putting her in glasses, if you like that sort of thing (sidenote, oh yes).
In fact, they could have saved millions of dollars on Dennis Quaid and special effects if they’d just made a movie called “Here’s Sienna Miller wearing glasses and walking around in a tight leather outfit, and occasionally two ninjas will fight each other” because, really, who doesn’t love Snake Eyes and Shadow Cat fighting each other?
They’ll undoubtedly make a sequel. My only hope is that they’ll just do a live action version of the 80s cartoon miniseries The Revenge of Cobra, the one where Destro invented that weather control machine that got blasted into pieces, and then at some point GI Joe and Cobra ended up playing an ice hockey game to see who would recover the last piece. Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either. I was six at the time, I thought it was the height of dramatic writing.
Don’t see GI Joe, even for the sake of a Spanish lesson. Or, wait until someone posts just the Sienna Miller scenes on Youtube.
Went to the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, which is a modern art museum they have here in Berlin. At first I thought a lot of this conceptual art was deliberately over my head, but then I realized that, to the contrary, these objects “qua” objects were in fact designed to speak directly to me. For example, this is a famous piece by Andy Warhol. Notice how the gunslinger is shown twice. TWICE. This replication of the seemingly static, the apparently unique, shows us that art has in fact been commodified because it is replicable, and if it is replicable than it is no longer unique. This piece calls into question our very idea of what art means. This piece shows two NBA basketballs suspended in a fishtank. TWO. Not one. One would not be art, but by placing TWO basketballs in the fishtank, the artist has given a symmetry to what would otherwise be a meaningless combination of everyday objects. This treatment of sports and pet equipment calls into question our very ideas about what is and isn’t art.
This is a human head carved out of poop.
The title of the piece of called “Shit Head”. By using human waste as his medium, the artist Mark Quinn has breached a bright red line in terms of what is and is not acceptable as art. But is not all art acceptable? “Shit Head” calls into question our very ideas about-
Seriously, you could go crazy looking at this shit. Literally, shit. After about four seconds you think to yourself “Wow, I’ve actually paid 8 euros to stare at shit. This is calling into question my very ideas about why I bother to pay museum entrance fees.” Fortunately, there are relatively few pieces in this museum. Although I do like this one.
This one, which is a gigantic diaorama with dozens of moving pieces, all of which are making a terrible racket, is captivating for some reason.
It’s like a four-year-old managed to paste all their electric toys onto a large cardboard surface, plugged in a bunch of plutonium batteries and switched them all on at the same time. It;s great fun, all thought it completely screws with my primary goal in going to modern art museums, which is to pick up smart chicks.
Me: So, you like modern art?
Smart chick: (shouting over a violent and terrible din) Was ist das?
Me: Modern art!
Smart chick: Ja?
Me: You like?
Smart chick: Was?
Me: I think the artist is trying to express the inner turmoil of his soul with this piece!
Smart chick: Nein spreche der English!
Me: Nine sprockets are english?
Smart chick: Ja?
Me: That’s fascinating!
It occurs to me that what distinguishes modern art from so much of the art of previous centuries is its focus on the grotesque, rather than the beautiful. This, I think, makes perfect sense when one considers the history of the 20th century. At some point, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Russia, and all of Eastern Europe came under totalitarian control. Everyone of these political systems was a grotesquerie of sorts. Most of Europe lived under grotesque, dehumanizing governments for at least part of the twentieth century, so our artistic expressions turned to the grotesque. It’s only natural.
But I do hope we’re coming out of it. I could go for a few more Rodins in the world, and a few less Shit Heads.
Athough it makes for great material for nightmares. Take this, for example,
If contemporary German art doesn’t give you nightmares, I swear, you’re just not paying attention.
Hey everyone. Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to address the Holocaust, something I thought I should do while in Berlin. It’s impossible to escape here.
Tackling the Holocaust is a no-win situation for a writer. In the first place, other writers have already done so, and much better than I can. Second, you’re bound to piss people off, no matter what you do. It’s still an open wound, a raw nerve to a lot of people. No matter what you say, you’re going to offend someone. Well, I’m tackling it anyway. Because it’s just a mountain you have to climb, if you’re writing about the 20th century, and not talking about it is a worse sin than talking about it and offending someone. Here goes.
“That was mere foreplay. Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” (German: “Das war Vorspiel nur. Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.”)
– Heinrich Heine, Almansor (1821), referring to the Spanish Inquisition
Berlin is the most terrifying city I’ve ever seen. Not for what it is, but for what it portends. Berlin is a diverse, friendly, multi-cultural melting pot of various creeds, races and languages. Frederick the Great brought the persecuted Huegonots and Jews here, built the Catholics a church, and made immigrants welcome. Einstein and the Brothers Grimm attended and taught at the university here. It has long been a center of culture, sophistication, and urbanity.
What terrifies me about Berlin is this: if the Holocaust can happen here, it can happen anywhere.
The worst genocides in Europe of the 20th century were carried out in Turkey, Serbia and Germany. I’ve been to all three countries, now, and these are some of the friendliest and most culturally diverse I’ve seen. The last century’s holocausts weren’t carried out by barbarians, Huns, Goths, Vandals or whatever boogeymen you might care to imagine. Ther were carried out by societies far more tolerant than our own, with people who look and talk exactly like us. If you want to see the face of the last century’s murderers, you need only look in the mirror.
No? You think we’re better than the Germans? I tell you we are not. And what they can do, we can do. There but for the grace of history goes the United States.
On September 11th, 2001, the US was attacked by 19 men, most from Saudi Arabia. On September 12th, people in New York were spitting on sikhs.
Sikhs. That’s an Indian religion that has nothing to do with Islam, much less have any responsibility for the attacks. But we spat on them. Because they looked strange to us. Because they looked foreign. And, suddenly, anything foreign was hateful to us.
There was so much hatred and rage in New York City that day it could have turned to bloodshed damn quickly. This is NYC, USA, by the way. We, of the tired, poor, huddled masses, the immigrant city, the multicultural mecca. And the only thing that kept September 12th from turning into a Kristallnacht for resident Muslims was that the people that were in charge decided that was something they didn’t want to see happen. Not because we were so noble that the thought of taking our anger and fear out on a minority population was repellant. Some of us were all to eager to do so. But because the chief of police posted guards in front of mosques.
We aren’t any better than the Germans were. We’ve just been more fortunate in our choice of leaders.
And before we get too high and mighty patting ourselves on the back for electing Barack Hussein Obama, remember that Hitler came to power with only about 30% of the vote. Think about some of the wack-jobs that have won that much of the vote in the US (George Wallace, anyone?). And we have our own history of genocide and enslavement, as anyone of African or Native American descent will tell you. I’m not equating our barbarisms with those of the Holocaust. I don’t own the moral calculator that lets you determine which atrocity is worse, chart and compare which evil is greater, which is less than, which values are equivalent. I don’t think you can weigh human suffering and culpability on a scale and rank our tragedies.
Still, America has been lucky. We’ve been blessed with a system of government that has so far prevented power from accumulating too much in the hands of one individual, the key flaw in the Weimar Republic. Without those checks and balances people are so often decrying, we could so very easily begin that slide toward totalitarianism.
I hope this idea bothers you. I hope you disagree with me. I hope what I’ve written pisses you off so much that you’re dying to see me proved wrong. I hope it sticks in your craw, the way it does for me, like the memory of a childhood humilation. Because we must always be bothered. that is the only way we keep our democracy.That is a vigil we must always keep. That is a night through which me must never fall asleep. Because the night we drift off, we wake up the next morning to long knives, and broken glass.
Much of the discourse about the Holocaust centers around the need to remember. Yes, but also, if I may turn the idea on its head, memory is also frightens me. Someday, hopefully far in the future, long after we’re all dead, someone will remember the appeal of fascism. They’ll remember what people liked about it, remember how it was able to draw entire nations under its control. They’ll remember how to build concentration camps, and how to turn an entire populace into complicit accomplices. That’s the rememberance I fear. We’ll remember why we committed genocide in the first place. Because it was us, brothers and sisters. This is something we did, to ourselves. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to atrocities. They are us and we are them. And someday, fascism and hate will sound like a pretty good idea, and we’ll remember why we thought they were a pretty good idea, all those years ago.
Let’s forget that.
Let’s keep building monuments. Let’s keep building museums and memorials. Let’s remember what happened to the last country that let fascism come to power. Let’s remember a city that was leveled, then torn in two for over forty years, and remember the price that must be paid for allowing the unthinkable to happen. And with that memory, maybe we can stave off the memory of ambition, cruelty, and the infrastructure of terror.
Lest we remember.
“Goddamn you all. I told you so.” HG Wells’ epitaph, 1946
“It happened; therefore, it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”
I feel bad I don’t have more stories of derring-do and international intrigue. To make up for it, I offer you this episode. Let’s pretend it actually happened:
The tires of the Land Rover skidded on the loose gravel and Vikram jerked the wheel hard to the left, narrowly avoiding most of hte bullets, but still presenting enough of a target that two pierced holes in the hatch.
“Next time,” he said through gritted teeth, “get us a car with something more than aluminum for its body.”
“Hey, you try hotwiring a late model car sometime. Just be glad it’s not a Toyota”
Vikram slammed his foot on the accelerator again, jerking me back into my seat.
“Either there, Vicky,” I said, but behind us the pickup truck full of bearded gunmen was still gaining.
“Stop. Calling. Me that,” he growled. “And do you want to drive?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.” I reached for the wheel.
“Get off!” VIcky shoved my hands away. “I swear if we ever get back to civilization I’m going to kill you nine kinds of dead.”
“Sounds peachy. Any bright ideas on how to keep us alive in the meantime?”
“No. We threatened a pretty lucrative livelihood when we rescued those girls before they could smuggle them across the Bulgarian border. Nothing short of hell is going to get them to stop chasing us.”
“Of course!” I snapped my fingers. “Keep weaving, Vicky, and start heading toward Cappadocia when you get a chance, I got a friend there.”
“Bullshit you got a friend there!”
But I was too busy scrolling through names on my cell phone. Fortunately, ‘Alex’ comes up early. My heart leapt when I heard him pickup.
“Alex baby, Vagabond here. How’s things?”
Vicky shot me an incredulous look as the sound of automatic fire opened up behind us. I did my best to ignore both.
“Good things, brother. How’s by you?”
“Can’t complain.” Another bullet shattered the window nearest to me, sending a shard of glass into my shoulder. I prayed it hadn’t hit a major artery. “Listen, are you still tight with those Cappadocian horsemen you were always talking about?”
“Thick as thieves. Why?”
“Think you can get them to meet us in Nicomedia with some heavy artillery? We could use backup.”
“I’ll have to see. It’s a little short notice for a Saturday night for those guys. Where should they meet you?”
“Just tell them to head toward the sound of gunfire. We should be easy to spot. Hey, you feel like taking on a human smuggling operation in Turkey?”
“Do I ever!”
“Great. Fly into Ankara. If we’re still alive, we’ll give you a call in two days. Cheerio.”
I put the phone down and looked at my shoulder. “Vick, you got a field dressing on you?”
“Kinda busy keeping us alive right now.”
“Great, keep doing that.”
“Conversation sounded like it went well.” I thought I heard the sound of grudging admiration in his voice. It must have been the blood loss.
“Yeah, with only one flaw. We actually have to stay alive until then.” As I tear a piece of my shirt off with my teeth, I pause to consider that, if it hadn’t been for an entirely innocuous bar fight in Prague, I never would have met Vicky and gotten involved in this business in the first place…
Although it sounds completely daft to say this, I am completely in love with the German language. “Really?” Germans ask when I tell them this. “It’s such a crap language. It sounds like a garbage disposal choking on a fork.” We compare the words for “butterfly” in several languages. In Spanish “mariposa.” In French “papillon.” Beautiful words that evoke the delicacy and grace of their subject. In German? “Schmetterling!” In terms of words sounding like the things they describe, “schmetterling” should really be applied to some kind of automatic weapon. As in “Hordes of enemy troops were streaming toward his machine gun nest, but his Schmetterling had jammed, and there was nothing he could do.”
But this is exactly what I love about the language. Even when I’m asking for directions I sound like a total badass. “Auf recht? Oder linkes?” Gott im Himmel it’s awesome. If you grew up, as I did, watching a lot of Star Trek and perhaps even going so far as running out and BUYING the Klingon/English dictionary when they got around to writing one, you were perhaps a little disappointed knowing that all your hard work learning “To be or not to be” in Klingon would never have any practical applications in the real world (“taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vIqelnIS” for those of you that are curious, and psychotic). Yeah, try picking up a girl by impressing her with your mastery of Klingon. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
(By the way, if this actually WORKS for anyone…run. She’s either A) a dude B) doesn’t shave her armpit hair because doing so would be a form of “body defilement not in keeping with the ideals of Starfleet or C) a gorgeous nymphomaniac who happens to love science fiction. Oh yeah, C) is a figment of your fucking imagination.)
But with German, you get the next best thing. German is the real-world equivalent to Klingon: a language so martial, harsh, and throat-scratching that absolutely NO ONE WILL WANT TO FUCK WITH YOU if you pronounce it correctly. I’ve given myself laryngitis twice trying to perfect my accent.
As an added benefit to English speakers, all the words are basically the same. I ask the pretty lady at the coffee shop how I would ask for a coffee for here, rather than to go. “Fur hiere” she says. After a few days, I stop asking people for the German translation of words, and instead just start speaking English while channelling my best Arnold Schwarznegger. Everyone seems to understand me perfectly, and in my newly acquired cravat, out-of-towners start coming up to me in the subway for directions. Mark Twain called it the ‘awful German language,’ but with apologies to the master, I like it just fine.
I have the rather surreal experience of catching a Spanish jazz singer at A-Trane one night, the premier jazz club in Berlin (Laura Lopez Castro, check her out). I can kind of understand the Spanish in her songs, but she addresses the crowd in flawless, impressive German. The two girls I’ve been chatting with all night have to translate “she just asked if anyone here understands Spanish.” I’m about to raise my hand when she’s already launched into the next song.
In addition to having an absurdly easy yet badass-sounding language, Berlin is an easy-going town that’s simple to navigate yet full of dichotomies. It has a street named after Karl Marx. And another named after John Foster Dulles. There is an entire museum devoted to John F. Kennedy near the Brandenburg Gate, with a gigantic picture of Barack Obama. I’ve seen stormtroopers on Unter der Linden. Not Nazi stormtroopers but, well, guys dressed up as Star Wars stormtroopers. As a city, it has instincts both collective and individualistic. This is expressed in a funky, idiosyncratic dress code in which everyone strives to be as different as possible from everyone else. This is a place where street musicians still can make a living, where artists use the remains of the Berlin Wall as their easels. But its also a place where the locals won’t dream of crossing against a traffic light, no matter how empty the street is. A place where there is little controversy about attacking climate change through stringent laws limiting energy use and emissions. She was divided in two for over forty years, and now that she’s whole again she hardly knows what to do with herself. It feels like a trial separation that no one really wanted is finally over, and now the makeup sex is really getting into high gear. Squatters have taken over the East, artists claim what’s left of the Wall, the Red Light District consists of the entire city and the cyclists claim whatever’s left. You can rent an apartment in the heart of the city for 350 euros a night, buy an excellent Turkish kebap, but good luck getting a residence permit. It is in turns both confounding and delightful.
If people want to see where the new and innovative is being born, let them come to Berlin. If they want to see the bleeding edge of jazz, hip hop and cabaret, let them come to Berlin. If they want to live as poor Bohemians among the Bohemians, to live surrounded by a music and a language that is not their own, let them come to Berlin.
And so I take great pride in saying: I am a doughnut.