Caveat: colloquio interiore

Dateline: Trieste

"Il tempo del viaggio e della vacanza è tempo opportuno per coltivare lo spirito, per soddisfare il desiderio di colloquio interiore e di ritrovamento di sé." Thus tells me the cover page of the bible I found in my hotel room, and for some reason, the idea has resonance with me despite my disinclination to pursue the remainder of the text. I'll pursue my own "interior colloquy" and cultivate my spirit in my own way, I guess.

I walked, and walked, and walked today, but remain uninterested in seeking out the more conventional touristic experiences Trieste offers, although I did bump into James on the bridge over the grand canal (don't imagine something Venetian – Trieste's Grand Canal is just a wet spot in a square off the old harbor, nothing more). Actually, it was a bronze of Mr. Joyce, perambulating the city where he left his soul, by his own report. Trieste's most famous modern son was an adoptee, but no less a son for that.

The Adriatic was no longer grey but a cobalty-bluish-green, sparkling under the sun. It wasn't warm – I stepped in more than one puddle crusted with ice, despite the clear skies and it being already early afternoon. The digital display on a bank told me it was 1 degree celsius. I stopped to watch the great ships as they pushed through the water in the distance, and noticed that the bluffs and mountain peaks lurking on edge of the sea to the north (toward Udine and, ultimately, Austria) were draped in snow all the way down to curving horizon. About half a dozen seagulls swooped around a landward-facing statue, a dull corroded green-looking sailor.

Walking a little further, I found the boat marina, and admired some of the sailboats parked there. Perhaps someday…. I found myself reflecting on another long trip, when I was in Valdivia, in Chile, admiring the sailboats parked there in the Rio Calle-Calle. It wasn't as cold there, but it was damp and had been raining. I have these Schopenhauerian moments – pessimism about the human condition, but not defeatism, per se. More like a romanticist's apotheosis through suffering, tied to the eventual abolition of personal will. Abolition of will? Or is it triumph? "Por Schopenhauer, que acaso descifró el universo." – Thus Borges

Unlike my Chilean friend of those many years ago – Kamel was a meditative human-rights lawyer in what was then an only recently post-pinochetized country – I'm not a convinced schopenhauerian, however. Perhaps I should be, but… something is missing… something. I wish I were better at staying in touch with people.

Caveat: Pope makes sign of cross

Headline on italian news channel:  "Pope makes sign of cross" hmm… slow news day?  Oh… there are those concerns about his health.

Dateline: Wien

The moon rose over the dimly seen industrial landscape like a disk of hammered copper. The train passed through the snowy east czech country in a matter of hours, and by 10 pm I was in vienna. I walked around a bit, and settled on a hotel just opposite the sudbahnhof. A very firm, finally comfortable bed, and breakfast wasn't bad either.

Dateline: Ljubljana

The austrian alps were beautiful. I decided to go to slovenia because there was no direct departure for italy from vienna's sudbahnhof. Where I really want to go is trieste. So… on a whim. The countryside was beautiful, snow, alps, all that. Ljubljana is ok, I guess. A small city, and I felt really sick again. The hotel I found was grossly overpriced, for what it was. Unimpressed, I guess.

Dateline: Trieste

It wasn't quite like coming home, but there was a notable feeling of comfort when I found myself in Villa Opcina this afternoon. It's not that I really have much skill with the italian language – but I find the culture more familiar, and the language is a sea of cognates – I can make out the meaning of anything I need to, given time and enough repetitions. It felt safer, somehow. Trieste has an additional level of comfort, given amount of time I've existed in the city in my imagination, as the primary adult home of James Joyce, the many biographies and studies I've read on that author spend a lot of energy explaining the place and its circumstances. And, well, the hotel I found is a bit pricey, but it has hotspot internet. So hello, everyone – I'm back in the first world at last. Or the virtrual world. Or something like that.

I don't think it's that I'm really feeling healthier, so much as that I'm used to being sick, now. I can't decide if I'm going to stay in trieste a few nights, exploring more – I've had the geography of the city memorized for so many years that it's weird being here, and it's easy to dismiss it – to say "well, now I've seen it, what's next?" Strange how places that have captured my imagination sometimes have that impact on me once I visit them. I got off the train in Opcina, northern suburb of the city against the slovenian border. I walked to a bus stop, took it two stops, the driver told me it was faster by trolley, so I got off, walked two more blocks and found the trolley, and took that. Old trolley, wooden doors and seats. Rattling down the hill… steep, steep hill, spectacular view of the redroofed city and the greyblue adriatic, half misty.

Caveat: Generative Economics

Dateline:  Krakow

Eurobob (more correctly, Hoosierbob, now) read my last entry and suggested "generative economics" – a la Chomsky.  Brilliant!  Actually wasn't where I was going, exactly, but it's a nice thought.   Generative economics might be the sort of "theory" (although that term makes me uncomfortable) that could be used to either support or refute the line of reasoning I was suggesting, by exposing economic "deep structure" that could be held up and compared to, say, linguistic or cognitive "deep structure."  Nevertheless, the specific "deep structure" I would be inclined to argue in favor of, at the current moment, bears little resemblance to Chomsky's proposed universal grammar, and although to the extent that semiotics includes linguistics, it could be considered a sort of grammar, it's really just a loose rhizomatic network of subjects and objects.  But Bob's definitely onto something. 

Meanwhile:  I've managed to scrape most of what's left of my lungs off my hotel room walls, swallowed plenty of vitamin C and cough suppressant, and I'm headed for points south, vaguely under the impression that, despite my love for snowy climes and polish cities (at least on the very limited sample, so far), all that bitterly cold wind can't be good for my health, which is currently miserable. 

Caveat: Coughcough-krakough

Dateline:  Krakow

Being sick is depressing even at home.   But while travelling, it can be more so – the combination of feeling out of control physically with the demands of alien culture, language, etc., become overwhelming.  I'm pretty certain I've managed to acquire a flu virus.  Yesterday I wasn't feeling well, but I ambitiously set out for Wawel (castle+cathedral that constitutes Poland's historical home of kings and cardinals, including Karol Wojtyla before his promotion in 1978).  I made it to the hill (about 2km from my hotel), but felt feverish and was coughing, and suddenly just gave up and walked back to my hotel, where I spent the day drinking fluids, eating vitamin C pills, and watching some lousy French news channel and napping intermittently.  I was clearly feverish last night, but I resisted the urge to open the window of my hotelroom – I think you have to let the fever do its work.

During my long walk, I began thinking about an odd idea:  what if the success of global market capitalism is rooted in something neurological?  Obviously different economic systems play to different strengths and weaknesses of human cognition, but my recent reading on the nature of thought has brought to the fore the apparently "competitive" or even "darwinian" (not quite appropriate) nature of consciousness:  various "ideas" (or memes, as Dawkins might have it) compete in the space of the mind for ascendancy, and the most dominant currents are what get pushed to consciousness at any given moment.   Could the darwinian nature of markets, along with the primary role accorded to "memes" (e.g. branding in the marketing) within Euro-American capitalism actually have some kind of natural resonance in the human mind?

That's not to discount Marx's progression of modes of production, which I think I still believe in.  But perhaps, viewing each mode of production as a more-or-less successful meme (or rather, "meta-meme"?), could it be that the evolution of cultural-economic structures is inevitably "pushed" by its cognitive environment (memes, after all, have the human mind as their formative habitat) toward the market model?  Or, turning to the dialectic, is it simply that our current models of human cognition are being unexpectedly influenced by the ascendancy of post-industrial capitalism?  Certainly, one could do a productive study of the correlation between historical models of mind (from Plato thru Descartes etc.) and the contemporarily dominant economic mode of production. 

I don't know that the idea has any legs, but it does tie in, at least indirectly, with my understanding of both Quijote and Persiles as "maps" of the socio-economic space of Cervantes' time.   Zizek (sp?) has an interesting study on Deleuze that I was reading before departing on this trip, that posits Deleuze as the theorist of post-industrial capitalism.  And obviously my efforts to tie cognitive models to socio-economic modes of production come straight from Deleuze's "rhizomatics." 

Mostly I'm talking out of my ass – lacking texts or quotes to substantiate my ideas and observations.  But one thing travel has always done for me, and which I was hoping this long trip would do again, is that it gets me out of cognitive "ruts" and helps open me to new ideas.

Caveat: Nie mowie po polsku

Dateline:  Krakow

My train into Warszawa was somewhat delayed.

I remember one moment, the train was stopped, it was dusk, the mostly-cloudy sky was pink and purple and the snow-covered fields reflected this.  A row of trees along one side of the train, an unplowed road and a house painted aquamarine in the distance on the other.  As we sat, a woman pulling a child on a sled came down the road.  The child was about 3 or 4, wearing a pink bonnet.  Running alongside, then in front, then behind, was a smallish dog with a tautly curled tail.  The woman with the sled stopped, and the child dismounted the sled alongside our rail car, almost ceremoniously.  She raised her hand timidly and began to wave.

Because of my latish arrival in Warsaw, and not in the mood to confront another strange city in the late evening hours, I splurged somewhat, taking a hotel just a block from the railway station that was rather pricey – a little more than what I'd paid in Amsterdam, per night.  But, since this is poland, for that amount I was basically in a 4 or 5 star hotel.  Not bad, though I felt terribly decadent.

Yesterday I walked around Warsaw, and felt challenged by the language.  On the one hand, because of my Russian studies it seems like it should be easier than German – and I often feel on the edge of understanding something.  But I can't yet seem to wrap my mind around the Polish orthography, and whenever I open my mouth, mostly lousy Russian comes out, which I'm sure the Poles find vaguely offensive.   So many close cognates:  pl dzien dobry vs ru dobry den.   So I protest "nie mowie po polsku" (I don't speak polish) and lapse into English – which people are much less likely to understand here than in Western Europe, admittedly.

I went to a large art museum for many hours.   More on this later, as, now in Krakow, I hope to visit some more.  This morning I took the three hour train here from warsaw, getting in around noon.  I walked around quite a bit before settling on a nice hotel basically overlooking the trainstation.   A lovely old building, perhaps 1900, with a fairly nice renovation.  Much cheaper than what I paid in warsaw, but hardly cheap in absolute terms.  Let's say:  more than the motel 6 in Duluth.  Hostels are apparently generally out in the suburbs in Poland – possibly a relic of the communist era. 

I'm in an internet cafe (mostly internet – not much cafe), as hotspots don't seem to have yet arrived this far east.   Second floor of a building on the south side of Rynek Glowny (central square).  It's wild to think that the cafe across the way is where Lenin hung out for years, before WWI.  Krakow was unscathed by the Nazis and the Red Army, and therefore has beautiful old buildings and narrow medieval streets and squares.  Well, I should say, unscathed architecturally – it's people were brutalized in large numbers, with Auschwitz just down the road.  The city's huge Jewish population was completely removed.  I didn't realize until coming here that this was the setting for Spielberg's "Schindler's List," which was largely filmed locally.  So now the Poles struggle with the ethics of holocaust-tourism. 

Caveat: Off to Poland

Dateline:  Berlin

I'm in an internet cafe in Berlin Ostbahnhof, bound for Warszawa tonite.  I decided on going to direct to Warsaw because other destinations would have involved changing trains, and I guess I was feeling lazy.  There was about a cm of fresh snow on the ground this morning, and skies were overcast. 

So… Karen tells me that the data warehouse at Paradise Corp was wrecked by a power outage.  I guess I'm delighted not to be working there anymore – what a mess.  I certainly miss many of the people, however – but I'm pleasantly surprised by how many continue to try to stay in touch.

I feel this constant pressure to keep trying to reinvent myself.  I think that overall it's a good thing, but sometimes I also feel a sort of reverse pressure to simply stop moving.  How does one reconcile these forces?  Where is the balance?  The big question, always:  what is life for?  No easy answers, certainly…

Caveat: Cervantine Episode

Dateline:  Berlin

I decided to extend my stay in Berlin another night, so I figure to leave for Poland (Szchecin first, then possibly Gdansk, Warsawa, Krakowa?) tomorrow morning.  Mostly, I felt a bit exhausted from the intensity of visiting all of Bob's "people" in Sachsen/Thuringia – I very much enjoyed it, but, from the constant strain of trying to understand german to the neverending supply of soft-boiled eggs and cold-cuts, it was bit wearing. 

So I've been resting, I guess, and strolling at a very leisurely pace around bits of Berlin.  This morning it was sunny, so I walked around Charlottenburg and then visited the TV tower – the big round ball-on-a-stick that the east germans built in 69 to impress the west, and still the tallest thing around. 

My friend Vesper (with many years German residency) tells me via email that those guys on the subway were probably legit.  Perhaps my travels in the third world have overly influenced my thinking?   Whatever.  Again, I guess worst case scenario, I'd have been hauled into a police station – but it all seemed a bit unreal at the time.

I've tentatively decided to visit my mother in Australia this summer, so my travels are hardly over.  And if I'm going all the way there, who knows where else I may decide to go.  That may depend, at least partly, on my luck in the stock market – going through a bit of a bad spell at the moment, but overall, it's still a net win, I think.  I'll have to ask my accountant.  Hah. 

The snow has let up, but it's still quite cold.  Nothing minnesotan, mind you, but colder than LA too.   The only thing I've missed about LA, so far, are friends and my cat, whom my father is kindly caring for.  She'll experience some bitterness at my long absence, I have no doubt.  But thus is life, e?

I spent a lot of time reading from Persiles last night.  I enjoy the occasional asides, where the "translator" makes disparaging comments on the quality of the writing, but it's really just Cervantes and his layers of fictionality.   One sense in which I am clearly "rennaissance" is in my agreement with the philosophy so often expressed in his writing (notably in the "Coloquio de los perros") that a well rounded man is he who reads and travels a great deal. 

Oh my…. in front of the window of the cafe where I'm sitting, writing this, there has suddenly appeared a "patrol" of american soldiers.  Seriously.  In camo-gear, with M16s and everything.  I can't figure out if this is real or just a weird game.  The fatigues are desert-tan, with darker green flak vests, us flag patches on right shoulders, "Bugdad patrol" patches on the left shoulders.   

Hah – "bugdad" – I don't really think these are real, but … er, what are they doing?  Urban anti-terrorism training?  Some weird kind of protest?  Hm… their gear is really quite authentic looking, down to NBC gear (chem-warfare) on the hip, radios, the whole bit… but:  no rank insignia on the collars.  That's a point against verisimilitude. 

Just like the other night, reality vs sham becomes an issue in Berlin.  Is that the theme for this visit?  How delightfully cervantine!

Ah… the picture becomes clearer:  another two patrol-members appear, and, behold, a cameraman.  Camerawoman, rather.  She's got a weird feather boa, amid otherwise practical clothing.  This is some kind of play – I wonder what the ideological slant will be, I wonder what it means.  I wonder if the gentlemen in fatigues are really americans, or germans?  One of them is black, another plausibly hispanic.   If they're german, they're well-selected in terms of ethnic profile.  But I can't hear their voices, so that will remain a mystery – they've moved on.

Caveat: Kleine Dinos

Dateline: Berlin

Last night Bob and I visisted his friend Torsten in Leipzig, they have this really nice loft-like apartment northwest of central Leipzig. Bob and I had spent the afternoon walking around some of his old neighborhoods in the lightly falling snow, and we saw the Thomaskirch where Bach's bones lie. We had coffee, cakes and hung out with Torsten, his wife and two kids – 4 and 6, very cute speaking german which I of course didn't understand, but I'd utter an occassional Ja or Neh just to play along. At one point, however, the little girl was talking about Dinos (dinosaurs) which I was very proud to have figured out before Bob did. She was saying the Dinos would fall into the cup at the table, and Bob said it wouldn't fit, and I improvised "kleine dinos" which was a big hit for a brief moment. The high point of my german-speaking career so far.

We took the train into Berlin and got in about 10 pm. Bob and I walked from the Ostbahnhof to the U-Bahn station at Warschauerstrasse, and parted ways – he to catch a night train to Liege, and I to find my hostel. I had bit of an unpleasant experience on the U-Bahn – I'd bought a short-trip ticket (Bob had said that's what I should buy and I didn't look at the directions carefully), and these two men were inspecting tickets on the crowded car, and pulled me off. I explained "ich nicht sprache.." or something like that, they switched to broken english, told me my ticket was invalid, and said I had to pay 40 euros. I suspect my ticket was, in fact, invalid – but the whole thing with the two men smelled like a scam.

They had very official-looking identification cards, and one guy had an electronic hand-held gadget that looked rather legitimate. But there were things about their style of presentation that struck me as very unofficial: they said I owed 40 euros fine for riding with an invalid ticket, but made no move to collect information about who I was – until I began to resist. If there's one thing officials always do, it's fill out lots of forms and documents. When I refused to pay, saying it seemed unreasonable or something like that, they said they'd have to call the police. The one man got out a cell and called the police (although his dialog – in german so I understood very little – again seemed short on the sort of detail one expect from officialdom). Maybe the call was just staged? Anyway, then they began sayng that when the police got there, the fine would be 390 euros.

"Really," I said. The whole thing stank – I was nervous, alone on the U-Bahn platform with the two men, but there were people on the other side. I didn't think they'd assault me, and of course, I was only half-confident that they weren't for real. But I figured worst-case scenario, I'd end up explaining my refusal to comply with the men to someone in a german police station. There was a point when we just stood there, for about 5 minutes. Nothing said. That was the moment when the one man finally asked to see my passport – which I surrendered to him only when he handed me his "ID card" – which as I said did look quite official. But even then, he made no move to record the information from my passport, and, more interestingly, he made no move to look for my date-of-entry stamp. Very unburocratic.

Another 5 minutes of silence, a train came and left. We were "waiting for the police." Then, suddenly, the one man turns to me and says (approximately), "you seem an honest man, sorry for the bother. Just go out and buy a valid ticket – you can be on your way." I'm almost certain it was a scam.

When I got to kurfuerstenstrasse station and got out to find my hostel, I was even more alarmed by the desolateness of the neighborhood – only prostitutes and shady-looking characters standing under overhangs sheltering from the falling snow. It was like 11.30 at night. I walked nervously around the block to where my hostel was, and was very relieved I'd found it. Things are much better this morning – I walked exploring, up to Potsdamerplatz and thence to Checkpoint Charlie (which I found rather by accident). Now I'm in a Starbucks on Friedrichstrasse in what I think is the former East. No relic of communism here, certainly.

Caveat: Saale Valley

Dateline: Leipzig

Bob, Martin and I walked around Jena for a few hours, visiting some of Bob's old student-haunts. It's a picturesque university town, seat of Freidrich-Schiller-Universität, and location of former Warsaw-pact champion "optics" industry (formerly Zeiss optics I think – before WWII). Anyway, there was at least 10 cm of fresh snow on the ground, and we helped dislodge some stuck cars on narrow streets, and saw the new "Goethe Galerie" (mall) downtown, and university buildings and some medieval stuff – a fragment of the city wall. Jena is quite an old town – 11th or 12th c I guess. Martin works for Zeiss but his position is in the IT department, which was recently outsourced to "HP" – which means that Carly Fiorina was his boss – at least until last week.

This morning, Bob and I took the train to Weimar and changed for the "InterCityExpress" for Leipzig, where I am now. I spent a few minutes just now answering a frustrating email from (ex)work – looks like trouble with the National Accounts commissions reporting process (the finding of new accounts sold under National Agreements eligible for commissions). The sample report run by Ravi & al. is correct format-wise but appears way off-base in terms of content – unless it was meant as a sample (which I don't think it was), it seems like something is amiss in the kingdom of DenMARK.

Bob is off shopping for rare bits of sheet music, and I'm here in the trainstation where I found a hotspot. There's less snow on the ground here than there was farther south, but Leipzig looks like an interesting city. The trip from Weimar up the Saale valley was quite beautiful under the snow, with castles up on the bluffs and old churches and all – reminded me of the Mississippi valley southeast of St Paul, in terms of natural appearance, but with that central european overlay of orderly-chaotic buildings, roads, etc.

Caveat: Schnee Schnee Schnee

Dateline: Chemnitz

Bob and I took the train from Amsterdam to Duisburg, Germany, where we changed to an overnight train to Dresden, via Berlin. It was quite windy and cold in Duisburg as we walked around looking for a cafe at 10 pm, but when I awoke on the train at 4 am as we came into Berlin, it was snowing, and there was snow on the ground. Once again I had trouble getting back to sleep, so I stared out the window at the giant speed-blurred snowflakes until we finally came close to Dresden, where they were clearly shovelling out from under a substantial snowfall, and it was still snowing. We walked through a desolate, not-yet-open-for-business downtown and found a place to get a bit of breakfast. At around 9, we met up with Bob's "relatives" from Chemnitz (formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt of the DDR). Bob's last name is sufficiently rare that he and his family can assume that anyone who shares it is related – the family in Chemnitz (and another branch in Liege, Belgium) is probably about 10 generations removed but they've definitely traced the connection.

We saw some old parts of Dresden (tho much is reconstructed since the city was so completely destroyed in WWII) and ate breakfast again with Michael and Kristine, and drove to Chemnitz (about an hour on the autobahn through light snow) by lunchtime. Had some delicious potato dumplings for lunch, with purple cabbage and roast beef of some kind in gravy, pretty traditional saxon dish I guess. It was good. We went shopping (I bought some gloves for the cold and a map of Berlin for when I get there, since Bob will no longer be as functional a guide there), and then spent the afternoon at Michael and Kristine's apartment. I can follow bits and pieces of the conversation, but my utterances are limited to Danke and Bitte. Occasionally Bob provides running translations but mostly I just sit and smile and absorb the whole thing impressionistically. After supper we drove to Jens, Sylke and David's (Michael and Kristine's son, daughter-in-law and grandson) in Euba, about 5 km south of Chemnitz, very rural and euro-pastoril scenic – like a swiss postcard with the fresh snow on everything.

Dateline: Jena

I didn't last long before needing to go to sleep. I had a glass of sekt (sparkling wine e.g. reisling) and it knocked me out. I woke at 4 am per my new pattern, but managed to get back to sleep, so for the first time in a few days I managed a full, restful night's sleep. Michael and Kristine returned for breakfast, thought Jens was gone early to work (he drives a train).

Train from Chemnitz to Jena between 12 and 2. Jena is where Bob studied as an undergrad in 1986, he has friends there with whom we are staying now.


Caveat: Fat in Utrecht

This picture was taken in Utrecht, Netherlands, of me and my friend Bob. I don't look that happy, do I?


[This is a back-post, added at the date the picture was taken but in fact added 2014-05-14. I post this picture mostly because it is the picture which shows me at my maximum weight..]

Caveat: Television & Hell

Dateline:  Amsterdam
I woke up wide awake at 4am. Still struggling with time-change related biochemistry, probably. I had that somewhat obnoxious “hook” from the currently popular Jennifer Lopez song looping through my head – a tenor-saxophony sort of sound, da-da-DA-da, da-da-DA-da ad infinitum. I guess there could be worse.  But one could hope for better, too.
The selection of television channels at this hotel (Hotel Vijaya) is eurotrocious.
There’s the darts channel.   All darts, all the time.  Like watching golf, but more boring.
There’re channels with infomercials 24/7 in both english and german, each with dutch subtitles. An attractive blendery thingy, for example, that I really, really wanted to buy immediately – it seemed to offer a simple solution to most of my core issues.  Fortunately, I can’t dial euro-900 numbers from my room.
There’s CNN, which is fine is small doses, but gets old fast unless I interleave it with a sufficient amount of anything else.   And CNBC, which is occasionally great, except when it segues into infomercials.
Raiuno, an italian-language channel, with a seemingly never-ending parade of 2nd tier celebrity interviews and news about the pope’s health.
A french/swiss channel, with it’s inevitable feel of cultural pomposity – but I probably have spent more time looking at that channel than most of the others, partly because the picture is clearer, but also, I rationalize, to provide me some practice with the admittedly “rusty” language-skills. A nice artist was being profiled yesterday morning – Ming, I think was his name, Chinese-French. Amazing, giant, sloppy black / white / grey busts of old men, children, whoever. Sufficiently impressive to make me want to look him up sometime – hence this note.
The spanish channel, TVE, with its never-ending stream of light news and bad acting and second-rate issues analysis (I learned that spain will be the first country to be voting a referendum on the european constitution, however – probably the only guaranteed “yes” out of the 10 countries where it’s being put to vote). And, regrettably, I’ve got that darn mexican-based prejudice against the ceceo (the pronunciation of “soft c” and “z” as english unvoiced “th” – common to madrileño and more northern castilian dialects – hence “socios” -> /sothios/) – this sort unconscious sociolinguistic red flag that pops up in my head when I hear it, screaming “snob,” is hard to overcome – hopefully once I’m in spain and have spent some time there, I’ll get over that. But on a positive side, I did catch some comedy that made me laugh out loud, the other night. Little sight gags and such, including a bit with a man trying to explain to his boss that he’d found a certain unmentionable body-part in an office trash can, that was quite humorous.
There are a ziljoen (=zillion? … I just made that up, parallel to nederlans “miljoen”) dutch channels of course. I have limited patience for them, not because I don’t understand them (everybody knows I can sit and watch television in languages I don’t understand for hours) but because they all have such a limited repertoire of commercials that they get repetitive fast.
I caught some profoundly derivative but fascinating dutch rap music videos, however. All that gang-sign, inner-city american posturing, body language, movement, eminemesque but translated into dutch. The group was called THC (hmm go figure) and appeared to be several young men of morrocan descent (common immigrant group, here). One piece on social prejudice, blatent buy-in to victim-based culture, but full of legitimate complaints all the same – the dutch white middle-class turning away, ignoring, fearing, etc. Another, happier bit, with dancing girls in morrocanish costume, looked like it was filmed in morroco as well. And apropos morroco, Bob and I went to an exhibit on morrocan history yesterday at the Nieuwe Kerk, the books with their arabic calligraphy were incredible, some of the roman- and punic-era artifacts fascinating, the decorative materials (intricately ornate doors, blankets, etc.) were less interesting to me, however.
So that’s a partial review of my hotel’s television selections.
I have an entrepreneurial vision to make a t-shirt memorializing my visit to Amsterdam, and – specifically – my stay on the periphery of the famous red light district (which I found singularly tawdry and uninspiring):  the shirt will say “museum of chastity / Amsterdam” – with an appropriately unsexy logo(?).   If, as I discussed with Jay some months back, Las Vegas is Hell under Disney administration, then Amsterdam is Hell under the left wing of the democratic party, or perhaps a tribe moderate anarcho-syndicalist college drop outs with a weakness for public spending?
Not that I have anything against Hell – I’m much in the need of familiarizing myself with its geography, customs and mores, given my inevitable long-term prospects, as a “faith-based atheist.”   Besides… most (but not all) of the people I’ve met who are going to Heaven get on my nerves.  Perhaps righteousness is only fun for the people on the “right” side of it.

Caveat: World of Choral Conducting

Dateline: Amsterdam

My friend Bob is here in nederland, of course, for an audition to be part of a workshop with a famous choir director named Eric Ericsson (sp?), incl. Nederlans Kamerkoor (sp? I think).  So Friday night, I met up with him in Utrecht about 5 pm, at the Pieterkerk.  Only minutes before, I had passed a small shop selling t-shirts and comic books (and snottily named Piet Snot – not hard to figure out), and had seen a shirt that said "Wie is de Bob".  This seemed so ridiculously relevant that I bought a size XL immediately, and was in the process of putting it on when I saw Bob at the end of the street attempting to decipher a historical marker. I gave it to him as a gift.

After dinner at an "african" restaurant in a weird warehouse-bunker thingy under the streets of touristic Utrecht, Bob and I went to the kamerkoor concert at the Pieterkerk. The music was thematically tied by being Iberian in langauge (if not composer) with some old bits and new bits in the first half, and a rather interminable, repetitive new composition for the second half, based on a civil war poem by Miguel Hernandez.  First, a Golden Age sacred piece in Latin, then some more popular spiritual pieces in castilian – these latter by Guerrero and reminding me of some verse I'd just read in Persiles.  The piece I liked best was a short contemporary composition by Joost Kleppe set to some verse by… I think it was a Brazilian poet. The performers themselves were amazingly good, and the acoustics in the 11th c. church were incredible.

We met some of the other conductors who will be auditioning for this workshop, including a coterie of Florida State University alums. I was odd-man-out when it came to the "shop talk" of these choral conductors, but I made my way as I often do by providing some comic relief and occasional snippits of hopefully insightful historical commentary. After the concert, it turned out Joost Kleppe was actually in attendance, and as the conductors introduced themselves and then I presented myself as "not the conductor", this Joost even commented something to the effect that I was a "spare" – a la Monty Python. All good light fun.

In total there were 5 of us on the train back to Amsterdam on friday night – Bob and myself, then three others (and forgive me if I'd rather leave them anonymous than get their names wrong). The one guy's audition was Saturday morning, so when we all had lunch at the Beurs van Berlage cafe yesterday morning, he was already done – but Bob and the others audition today (Sunday). We met the last of the FSU coterie, Jose, too, yesterday morning. Oh… turns out their auditions are all in the Beurs van Berlage building – just a few doors away from the Beursplein and the cafe entrance, actually. So that's what Bob's doing right now (more or less).

We all went out to dinner at an Indonesian restaurant last night, all very clubby with so many choralists (is that what they're called?) I just stuck to my sidekick role. I've been around Bob enough, over the years, to be able to at least follow some of the shop talk, if not really "understand" it. I can fake it successfully – as I do with so many things.


Caveat: Where there’s smoke…

Dateline:  Amsterdam

Many people, knowing my personal history, may be inclined to imagine that my visit to Amsterdam was motivated by some, er… burning desire.  Far from it – I think that phase of my life is definitively over – over for some 18 years and counting, actually.   Nevertheless, the little "coffeeshop" with it's heady aroma is ubiquitous in central Amsterdam, and the "psst, psst" from street vendors of various substances and services leaves me vaguely but not irremediably uncomfortable.

I'm back at Beursplein.  I already have my tickets to Utrecht and will leave shortly.   Apropos my visit to various restaurants and cafes (i.e. with respect to more conventional smoke):  the Dutch show their progressive side, since, unlike most of Europe, they actually have posted "no smoking sections" in many public places.  Nevertheless, they remain unrepentantly European – hence, they don't actually obey these "no smoking" directives.   Kind of like Americans and speed limits, I suppose.

There's a little bouquet of flowers in a square little vase on this table that looks rather more like a salad than a flower arrangement.  But it's nice I guess.

Caveat: Beursplein

Dateline:  Amsterdam

I'm sitting in a cafe on Beursplein, in the Beurs van Berlage (whatever that is) in downtown Amsterdam.  I just had a very tasty soup.  I came here looking for WiFi, didn't find t-mobile but figured out KPN (dutch phone company) and for a coupla euros, I'm hooked up once again.   This is nicer than the lobby of the Ramada, where I went yesterday.

I set out this morning to go to the Rijksmuseum, but it was raining hard, and so I bought a transport pass and took a trolley (sort of indirectly).  I got to the museum and decided I wasn't in the mood (plus there was a sign announcing that a portion of it was closed), so I got back on a trolley at random and visited some grim Dutch suburb (something southwest of here, I think). 

I don't make a very good tourist, I guess – I'm just as happy riding public transport at random as I am visiting museums or landmarks.

I meet with Eurobob tomorrow in Utrecht.  Meanwhile, mostly I'm killing time.  I wrote up a a rather pessimistic review of reporting capabilities at Paradise Corp for Ravi and Tom, RE the bid for business from that large retail chain.   In retrospect, I'm wondering if it's what they wanted… but if they want me to write up the solution (as opposed to a condemnation of current abilities) that's much more in depth, isn't it? 

As in, you'll have to build such and such aggregate, using such and such process, and tie in data from here, there, and everywhere.  Seems like a request to design reportomatic 2.0.  I'm all for that, but it ain't gonna be cheap, is it?

Meanwhile, I'm reading Persiles.  So you've got this guy, Periandro (later revealed to be Persiles), dressed in drag (and looking very gorgeous, apparently), looking for his sister, Auristella (i.e. Sigismunda – and one is inclined to impute something incestuous, there).  But she is dressed as a man, and is about to be sacrificed because the barbarians want the blood from his (her) heart to test a prophecy of a future king.  But one of the barbarians gets the hots for Periandro (who he thinks is a woman) while Auristella reveals she is a woman (to avoid being murdered) and the barbarians break out into an orgy of violence and soon the whole island is in flames.  Really.

And that's just the first few chapters.

So far, Nederland reminds me of a kind of old-world New Jersey, but they talk funnier.  I don't mean that as an insult, either.  I think Dutch is a very cool language…  kind of what I expect English would sound like if I didn't understand it.  It's got similar phonetic inventory, and very similar cadences to English.  Kind of like how they talk in Jersey, right?

Caveat: A somewhat liberal metropolis 1.1

Argh – I just posted a rather long entry and it appears to have been eaten by the system without posting.

So this is a shorter entry: I arrived, I walked around, I checked into my hotel, I slept, and now, early evening darkness, I'm here.

[OK nevermind.  Looks like it came through.  Disregard the above.]

Caveat: A somewhat liberal metropolis

Dateline: Amsterdam

I arrived around noon, once baggage was gathered and immigration cleared. Very tired, as I failed utterly to sleep on the plane – too much anticipating or something.

I read a few chapters of Persiles, and still can't get over how peculiar it is. It ain't Don Quijote, we all know… but what the hell is it?

Amsterdam is about 0 degrees C – but after Minnesota last month it doesn't seem unreasonable in the least. I walked around quite a bit, located the hotel where Eurobob set up reservations, and proceeded to check in and sleep 4 hours. I'm more with it now, so I emerged in early evening darkness to find this internet spot. Logged on, looking for a nearby hotspot for my laptop – which will be much better. I was having some trouble with the yahoo email account yesterday and Sunday, but I think it's resolved.

I still need to send to Tom / Ravi @ Paradise Corp the write up on the reporting requirements that I promised before I left. I'll send that out tomorrow morning. While on the flight I also put some time in on the "white paper" I'm trying to write on Business Intelligence / Decision Support Systems. I think I have a long way to go, but I think I have a chance of producing something genuinely meaningful.

Guy Kawasaki asks, apropos the start-your-own-business thing, in an article I read in Entrepreneur magazine: are you creating meaning? That's the most important question, according to him. We shall see, I guess, but my business concept will proceed apace while I lollygag around Europe.

Caveat: Soon. Very soon. A matter of hours.

Dateline:  Los Angeles

In a matter of hours, I leave for Amsterdam.  I'm quite excited, and I cannot sleep.

I've packed (to the extent I do such things), and I'm as prepared as I think I can get.  Of course I've probably forgetten a few things, but c'est la vie…

Bernie the cat, and my friends at Paradise Corp., and my dad and brother and stepmother will all be missed while I travel.  I'm looking forward to seeing "Eurobob" (as he put it in a recent e-mail), however. 

I feel a great sense of accomplishment in having finally vacated my unit (storage unit, that is) after four years of procrastination and not coping with all that junk – a lot of it is Michelle-detritus that I'm not sure yet what to do with – but at least now it's under my nose here at home rather than "out of sight out of mind" in that Sherman Oaks personal storage facility.   Plus now, I'll save some money.

Ok, this is boring.  Next entry, from Amsterdam.  Ciao.

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