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.”
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.
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,