Here are some odds and ends from my travel journal I thought it would be fun to share. Not fun like swimming in a tub full of jello fun, but fun like riding on a carousel when you’re a little too old to be riding on the carousel. Does that make sense? We’re doing this a little out of desire, a little out of nostalgia, a little out of obligation. Just go with it. Get a hot dog. Watch the spectacle. It’ll be fun.
Got to London and one of the first things I see coming up out of the Underground is a garden and a graveyard side by side. It’s definitely spring here. I probably smell bad.
Edinburgh: too many Americans, too many men with the top buttons of their shirts undone.
Christchurch Meadows in Oxford: 1/2 pastoral beauty, 1/2 lawn maintenance crews to keep up aforementioned beauty.
Here at Oxford. Mina’s been kind. I find it best to wander as much as possible. I’m sleeping on a rug on the floor. My head hurts. All my clothes smell like sweat and my period so I just bought a shirt with a sparkly lion on it and some zig zag harem pants for 25 pounds. Really bad decision rationally but it feels good and looks amazing.
I hate Americans. I don’t hate myself but I hate hearing them talk over here. Compared to the British accent, they all sound like Roseanne Barr.
You should see me right now. Don’t know what got into me yesterday. I bought the most garishly patterned pants. I don’t know. Maybe I was lonely. But I walk down the streets of Oxford wearing these pants and somehow feel better, as if people’s stares are my way of connecting with them, letting me know that if anything were to happen to me in any particular moment that they would help me, not because they are kind but because I cannot be ignored. I always exist wearing these pants. I have no fear of disappearing.
Bought a ham and egg sandwich and a small container full of berries from Tesco and had planned on consuming them in the bookstore while I finished Emerald City by Jennifer Egan so I wouldn’t have to buy it. But three bites in I was promptly told I had to leave if I wanted to finish my sandwich. “No food from outside sources,” the woman said, and pointed to a sign that said, “No food from outside sources.” So I wrapped up the sandwich and finished the book. Then I found a spot on the street next to a jazz guitar player and ate standing up while he played “Girl from Impanema” to all the Oxfordians walking in and out of the sunlight and rain.
I am starting to really despise Oxford. It’s like the Pleasantville of academia. You could only ever discover these people’s desires and dreams through rhetoric or prose and even then you would have to go through seven layers of wool and tweed. They’re all so perfect. The men have clipped, windswept haircuts and ruddy cheeks and pants that fit. The women are rarely above a size 6 with invisible product in their hair and the color coordination of an autumnal department store display. They’re just dying to be torn open, all of them. I want to rip them apart and bleed on their faces. I liked Liverpool. I really did. The air there was different. Everyone in Oxford walks around in a blanket of their own self-congratulation. In Liverpool people are itching to get out. The youth don’t pretend like they have a place to go. They loiter. Their accents are thick; their makeup is thick.
Just spent four hours at the Tate Modern. Paid for all the of the exhibits. At first hated Kasuma–her first work was a room full of paintings that looked like little grains of rice glued to a five by five foot canvas but then the words ‘obsessive and simultaneously meditative’ came to me, and I understood. She was obsessed with small circles/shapes populating expansive spaces both because she grew up the daughter of Japanese seed farmers and, later in life, after I assume she had done tons of LSD, she began hallucinating dots everywhere. Her last installation was a maze of mirrors full of LED dots attempting to capture a feeling of infinity. The dots came from an invisible source. The viewer saw themselves over and over and over, surrounded by dots forever. There was no clear way out of the maze. The idea of infinity is disorienting, but what was even more disturbing was that Kasuma saw infinity this way. Or saw anything this way, frankly. It was breathtaking.
The other paid-for exhibit, Boetti, was impressive but pissed me off. It was a study in the various ways Boetti organized the world in terms time, people, and geography. I guess he decided the best way to do this was weaving them into tapestries. Maps, letters, numbers, symbols, rivers of the world, woven in to giant tapestries with ugly colors. It was not remotely visually striking, just intricate, and I couldn’t wrap my head around why he did it. There was just so much work and so little visual or conceptual innovation. I began to be immersed in the same feeling I used to get when I was a kid and my mom insisted on cleaning everything even when people weren’t coming over. Of course I understand it now–sometimes you just have have to do something to achieve peace of mind, but I think art only becomes important when what you have to do affects people’s ways of seeing. Apparently it had to do with Afghanistan in the 70s, but I saw little emotional/visual connection besides the fact that Boetti spent time there and paid Afghani women to weave all his ideas. See, that’s the thing! He didn’t even do all the dirty work. Like, Jesus.
Other highlights/lowlights of the Tate:
-Andy Warhol’s giant electric pink and yellow self portrait, seen below.
-nature films by Painlevé that involved 35 mm zoomed in on goeducks mating. Surprisingly sensual and beautiful. Also, he collaborated with Eisenstein, which is badass.
-Jenny Holzer‘s truisms in the hyper-stimulating form we’ve all adjusted ourselves to and, in a way, asked for.
-Cindy Sherman‘s art school work.
- Max Ernst, and the surrealist section in general. Here is my favorite, called “Forest and Dove.”
A lot of people were at the Tate Modern out of obligation and not because they like art.This is not meant to be a statement about high/low culture. I think art museums are for everyone, but they didn’t mean a whole lot to me until I learned about art history. Especially modern art. If you don’t like modern art, you will hate the Tate Modern. So don’t force yourself to pay for it, and then walk around complaining or talking about other things in loud voices. I didn’t go see any castles in the UK because I don’t give a shit about castles. I would just be there, taking up space, getting in the way of people that actually like castles. If you have the means and leisure time to be a tourist, you are one of the luckiest people in the world. Savor your time. Be selective. But also, don’t listen to me because I am a snobby bitch. And an old person, I guess. I just hate listening to people talk when I’m trying to enjoy someone’s work. People are the worst.
As I crossed the Millenium Bridge, approaching the Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Lil’ Wayne’s “6′ 7″ began playing in my headphones. Coincidence? I think not. Time for new poets, Billy Boy. Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.
Also, only two food vendors were on this really long bridge, and both of them were selling the same thing: honey roasted nuts. Is there a rule of some sort?
Note: Now we enter the Continent, and as I review these scribbles from my perspective in the future, it might be said that alone-ness is taking its toll on my mental health. In a good way.
Meandering around Marais, which is the only word for it: meander. Got my train ticket to Amsterdam bought, so I have very few worries. Sallem told me about Japanese tourists coming to Paris in huge numbers, and in huge numbers they become depressed and have psychological breakdowns because the city is so dissimilar to what they thought, and because of this phenomenon there is now a service in the Japanese embassy in Paris for the poor, sad tourists to help them cope with the loss of the Paris of their dreams. I think they should be taken to the Marais on a sunny day, where there is a jazz band playing on one end of a bridge over the Seine and an accordian player on the other end, and people are filling the cafe tables and chairs drinking light beer and espresso and chattering in French which, en masse, sounds like a fountain. Or, for bad days, there should be an experience they are taken on with a friendly French tour guide (this, I know, will be difficult to procure) wearing a striped shirt and a beret who takes them to get baguettes and cheese and wine and they sit at the Eiffel Tower park learning French phrases while they eat and drink. If they pay tons for little figurines, they will pay tons for that.
And the French “experience guide,” who is a handsome, poor student trying to work his way through Les Erbonne, will fall in love with one of the Japanese daughters and they will have a baby out of wedlock and have to live in a dirty studio and the girl will write in her journal one night, when the baby has gone to sleep and her husband took the bicycle out for bread three hours ago but is now smoking and having a drink alone just get out of the house, watching and hating all the women in tall heels that could spike his sneakered feet at any moment. “Now I really know what it is to be French,” she’ll write after describing her new life, and she meant to write a letter home to her family in Japan but now her hand is tired.
It might be elderly-Parisienne-trip-to-the-museum-day today, as I just travelled all the way to the other end of Paris to see Berthe Merisot at the Monet Museum only to be flanked on all sides by stern, small, old, old, women who are either whispering about something that had nothing to do with me and looking at me, or whispering about my dress or weird scarf or messy hair or whatever it is Paris disapproves about me which seems to be everything. I was in line, counting out Euros in coins, but I left almost immediately. Seeing Monet and Merisot would be an awful experience alongside elderly bitches in tailored pantsuits and Chanel No. 5. This art is for them, I’m sure they claim. This art is for their living rooms. Well, fuck you. Merisot is sensual and soft and eveloping and kind and powerful and I hope she suffocates you. This art is not for you. Someday I will rent out this museum for the whole day on a Friday even though I don’t need it that long and you can all just go back to your salons, dipping stale cookies in lukewarm tea and complaining, or whatever it is you rich fucks do.
I realize I am taking out my aggression on old people, but I can’t take it out on young people because I have to pretend my life is united with the lives of rich Paris youth, at least for a couple more nights until all the parties are over. Sallem’s friends are kind, but the people at bars, the people that come out at night; they are from another world. Why do I always put myself in situations where I am following around smaller, more beautiful people to fashionable parties? Everyone is scared of me at these little clubs. They give me five feet of buffer room wherever I am, like some big, glistening dancing dragon that is hulking around the cave they have gone to for shelter, spilling gin and tonic on their Top Shop tunics. I have the urge to stomp through them and shout I AM MASTADON. In fact, I think I drunkenly told someone that I was a DJ and my DJ name was Mastadon. They didn’t like it. You see, people like to surround themselves with tiny people. People like people they could, if the situation calls for it, pick apart and eat. It’s just natural selection.
You know what’s weird? How this park is full of nothing but old people. There is seriously not a person under 60 years old here. Most are nearing death. We are all sitting on benches in a circle around a gazebo on a beautiful day and it is really starting to creep me out. I should probably go to the Louvre. I wanted to go to the Picasso Museum but it’s closed for construction.
People outside the Louvre:
-Italian couple in matching khaki’s and blue shirts
-Obese teenager with t-shirt that reads “Failure is an option”
-Lots of people with jarring sunglasses/face ratio
-Scarves with people in them
-Policemen with bald heads
-Only a few people with babies inside of them, but quite a few with babies outside of them
-An old man reading a newspaper
I decided not to go into the Louvre. Instead I will walk to the Musee d’Orsay. I heard they have Degas.
Well I missed the hours for Musee d’Orsay. And I’m hungry. There is a man near the steps playing sad clarinet for my sorrows. I guess most of my trip to Paris will be a going to places and writing outside of them. So it goes.
Have also just realized I am wearing a scarf with the colors of the French flag on it. People must think that’s really special, especially as I have been taking pictures of national monuments.
A Dutch man just wandered in front of the cafe in Amsterdam where I was drinking and eating and he said, “Okay, okay, fire show,” and several other things in Dutch. Then he poured alcohol over two sticks and said, “Okay, here we go, here we go.” As he tried and failed many times to light the sticks, the theft alarm of the scooter next to him went off. He ignored it, still flicking bits of flame from a cigarette lighter to the sticks without any fire. When he finally lit them, he poured alcohol in his mouth and spit at the sticks, making giant bursts of flame towards the cafe with no regard for passersby. One guy on a bike definitely almost caught fire. Then, a Spaniard in a brand new Heineken Brewery jacket sauntered by and stopped dead, watching the Dutch man with furied intensity for some time. His friends called to him but he didn’t answer, watching. “Que es esto?” he muttered to himself. Then, in both alarm and fascination as another fire cloud ripped through the air, he whispered, “Plasma? Plasma. Es plasma.” His eyes were wide and full of pupils. I have reason to believe he was on mushrooms.
The Van Gogh museum was disappointing. Not to say Van Gogh was disappointing. The opposite of that. But what are you thinking putting his work in brightly colored, sun lit rooms? He is dead. He no longer needs optimism or asylum. It is obviously too late for that. The best part was the sort of hidden-in-the-basement exhibition of Symbolism, which started with the view of a courtyard full of rocks in the shape of Van Gogh’s “Wheatfields.” The exhibit was circular and mazelike and lit like twilight. The walls were purple tinged with blue. Certain Symbolist pieces,. like Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead,” had musical pieces from composers of the time period accompanying them.
The entire Van Gogh collection–the brightly-lit, gold-framed paintings in a row collection–was paired with captions like “Van Gogh loved to be in nature. That’s why he painted these trees.” Bullshit. You are doing the man a disservice. Of course he is much more than his mental illness, but completely avoiding his way of seeing by acknowledging it in one sentence–”He was in a mental institution from this date to this date”–is glossing his raison d’etre, his driving force. His suicide is not romantic, but the reasons behind it are tied into his work, as all aspects of an artists’ life are. Why was he obsessed with peasant women and prostitutes? Can we at least speculate why his understanding of color exploded into little fragments? He was imitating Impressionists, yes, but for chrissakes. Van Gogh is no imitator. We don’t give him his own museum because “he loved nature.”
Little things, little songs from my commercial childhood are coming to me as I sit outside of a shopping center on Alexanderplatz, East Berlin. It is truly a city rebuilt in the 90s. I hear, “Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime. When pizza’s on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime!” I like that the residents of Berlin wear “I HEART BERLIN” shirts. Little things, little morale boosters. Kids with mohawks.
At the Holocaust Memorial for Jewish citizens of Europe and I’m welling up a little. It’s not a wall with lights and names and statues. It’s a sculpture that takes up the entire area of a city square. No fence, no entrance or exit, just tiled granite for a floor and at first, at the borders, rows of coffin-shaped (rectangular, evocative of coffins or graves but not directly representational) concrete blocks rise out of the ground in perfect straight lines. Then, when you walk further into the rows, the aisles gradually narrow, the blocks become higher, and the ground slopes. Neither the slope or the growing height of blocks is visible from the street. Only when you walk towards the center do you realize you are descending into the ground. Then rectangular walls of concrete (the sides of the blocks) surround you. There many avenues of this perfectly straight grid to take, but only a crack of street is visible. You are in a city of blocks, of graves, with no block or avenue more distinguishable from the other. This “maze” is accessible to the public at all hours, and those go to the center can’t be seen from the sidewalks. Anything could happen in here. There are cigarette butts on the ground. High schoolers on spring break sit on the blocks and laugh with one another in different languages. Human life can and does happen here but only with the backdrop of blocked graves. Sitting on one of them, you can see people in dark coats emerge, head first, then torso, then legs out of the line. It is so quiet, yet unmissable. It is one of the most moving sculptures I’ve ever seen.
Met up with Jonathan, a good, old friend of mine from Topeka. He lives in Southeast Berlin in leftist, vegan cooperative. Haha. He’s not as radical as his cooperative mates, but he is an American Jewish vegan and that surprised the anti-capitalists so much they let him in for 150 Euro a month just so they could tell people at parties. We bought beers and walked with them along the canal, talking about how we used to only want to go back to school, that terrible panicky year where we were babies pushed out of the incubator, but we now we love life. We do. Look at us, strolling along a canal in East Berlin, the graffiti growing out of the bottoms of buildings like colorful weeds, drinking sweet, dark beer with enough money in our pockets and no particular place to go.
I want to live in Berlin more than I want to live in any other European city, but I’m afraid by the time I get there it will be overrun. My friend said sometimes people at parties will hear his accent and come over to him and slur in German that he is ruining this city. People like him who move here from America are ruining it, they say. I see their point. What if only English-speaking, plastic-looking condominiums go up? What if the very history that allows this city to be so free gets swallowed up by people seeking freedom, and they never bother to learn anything about it?
Last day in Berlin. We were mean to each other to make it easier to part. I am in love with this city like I would be in love with a large, handsome, ragged punk that hangs out on sidewalks and cheap bars that would never love me back but keep me around because I laugh at his jokes. He plays stand-up bass and dives innocently, unapologetically into leftist politics and horror movies. I’m at Mauerpark Flea Market. I bought a jean jacket to be like Roberto Belaño. I bought a sparkly ring, and two Lego people for the girls I babysit. A band is warming up. I’m drinking a Hefe Weissen. A homeless woman with a mullet is sitting next to me, speaking words of comfort to her small dog.
Might be out of money. Tried to buy a baguette and Diet Coke on the train but my card didn’t work. The clerks seemed to think it was the magnetic strip on the card, but as I stood there watching them clean it on their polyester uniforms, try it on other machines, put it in saran wrap, but I knew it was no use. A cloud of no money began to descend over me. In any case, I am forced to eat the remains of a bag of gummi bears for lunch and possibly dinner if I don’t have the time to get on the Internet and transfer some money. It has just occurred to me even if I had the time to transfer money, I have no money to pay an Internet cafe to do it. Do I regret the purchase of the jean jacket and the sparkly ring and the Lego men? The answer is probably yes. But there’s nothing I can do about it now.
Note: What follows is a page full of the phrase “I’m out of money” written in cursive.
It turns out I was not out of money, and the train workers were right. I actually spent less than I thought I did.
Getting the bus down Snelling and I’m pissed that no one’s here to welcome me home until a man gets on the bus with a shopping cart full of boxes and crates and pieces of scrap metal. He’s cheerful, doing his day’s work I guess. He has a women’s belt holding up his pants, and a class ring where a wedding ring would be. Just another day for him. So I have to melt into the bag on my back and remember my life’s not so bad. I haven’t showered in three days and I am really, truly hungry for a hot meal and I know people’s names a million miles away and my eyes are saturated with images. Things are actually wonderful.
The notebook basically ends here. Thank you for travelling with me. I’ll put up photos of the trip when I find a device that connects my camera to my computer. I imagine it’s some kind of wire. The pictures will make you want to go to Europe, I hope. But don’t buy a Eurail pass if you do. It’s a rip-off.
The last real entry is an idea for a short story where people have a lamb spit roast in their backyard at their house on the day before Easter Sunday, and they invite all their friends over to cook and eat the lamb and they have a party and a good time. Then when they wake up in the morning, on Easter, there’s a live lamb wandering around their backyard.
That’s it. That’s the story. Should be good. And on that note, a Happy Spring to you and yours! See you around.