Friday, June 29, 2007

i left school early on wednesday, and stopped at caprabo to pick up some apples, crackers, and a bar of chocolate. had i know that my next actual meal was going to be at 2am, i would have stocked up a little more. i got to the airport a little late and was worried about missing my flight. turns out that i was fine, because not only did i board 10 minutes before it was supposed to leave, but it ended up getting delayed. the shuttle bus from the airport in munich to the train station also turned out to be an hour longer than i thought, and then because i got to the train station so late, i missed all of the express rush hour trains and had to take a train to schweinfurt with an hour long layover in some city that starts with "w". i finally got to schweinfurt at 11:30, after 11 hours of travel. i had of course missed the show, but i didnt really care, because im here more for the company than the music. and what a relief the company was/is. being around friends for the first time in a month feels so good. we somehow arranged to be able to sleep upstairs in the backstage area with a carload of swedes. we walked upstairs into the kitchen, where earth crisis' leftover food was sitting out. the walls were covered with tags from mostly US bands that had being touring through there since as early as 98, including madball, agnostic front, the bouncing souls, boysetsfire, and hundreds of others. there were a lot of pictures of penises and really inane things written on the walls. im not sure why, but for some reason i expected a little more maturity from musicians mostly in their late 20s and early 30s. randy tagged "gather attrition invisible tour 2k7" and we decided to play our mp3s through the van stereo outside of the shows.
the next morning we drove to antwerp. it took about 7 hours and i spent most of the ride talking to kelly and randy. it felt good to talk to someone that makes me feel understood, and not just because we have a lot of politics in common. we got to antwerp and mike only had 2 people on the guest list, so we hung outside of the venue for a while while mike went and talked to bands, and eventually we got scott vogel to throw 3 more of us on the guest list because he knows kelly. the rest we just snuck in by reusing wrist bands. terror in europe is pretty insane. there were like 800 people at the show and people went nuts. earth crisis, on the other hand, only managed to motivate about 30 people to sing along and another 20 to dance. a third or maybe even half of the show left after terror. despite the lousy fan reaction (which i guess makes sense, because the broke up 6 years ago which means that anyone that saw them the first time around is probably at least 20 by now, and the majority of hardcore kids are younger than 20) they played really well and i had a good time.

Monday, June 25, 2007

so there is another person here to whom i can vent. she doesnt drink and had a straightedge roommate at BU, so she gets the whole straightedge thing. i also checked my biblical facts against her knowledge - she is jewish - and in that passage in leviticus the orders are seperated by some other things. ok, so its not in the same breath. i think my point probably still stands.

so this weekend i did basically nothing. on friday night i saw pirates of the carribean 3, which was not very good and didnt make that much sense because i never saw the second one, and saturday i saw shrek 3. during the day, i read. i read terry goodkind's new sword of truth book, which came out last summer in hardback but i was too cheap to buy it, and homage to cataluña, which intensified my interest in both history in general, and, particularly, reading about revolutionary moments in history, eg. the spanish civil war, the russian revolution, etc. i remember reading a novelized version of a tv show called the young indiana jones chronicles when i was much younger, and in one of them he is hanging out in moscow during the revolution and spends time with bolsheviks, menshaviks, and people of all sorts of affiliations. i found it fascinating at the time to read about a moment when divergent ideologies had a chance of shaping the politics of a nation. and imagining anarchists practically running a city as large as barcelona, even for only a few months, is quite a trip. yesterday i read michael chabon's new novel, the yiddish policeman's union, which was quite good. some people have heard me remark lately that i would like to be a writer but lack the skill to produce anything creative. if i could write fiction, i would want it to be a combination of chabon's style and camus'; as bleak and philosophical as camus but with chabon's grasp of character and sense of humor.

ive started to try to tackle the brothers karamosov, but its slow going so far. im about 50 pages in and so far its basically a prologue to stuff actually happening and characters being developed. if the whole thing is this detatched and perfunctory, i wont make it into the three-digit page numbers. why do the people with the best ideas so often write the most boring crap? im not far enough into dostoyevsky to say if this is the case for him, but it certainly is with a good chunk of the philosophy i had to read in college. by the way, im really enjoying talking about college in the past tense. nevermind that im technically not done until 3 weeks from now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

on monday i was sitting outside at the patio with a bunch of kids, and somehow the conversation landed on craigslist sex-work, which several of my friends have done. the unanimous opinion of the table was that if a straight guy was paid to have a man go down on him, he probably wouldnt be able to finish, because of some kind of mental block. first of all, given that i have friends who have done this who qualify as something like straight, i know that isnt what happens. but regardless, to whatever extent that is true, its obvious to me that that is a socialized reaction; that straight men, even progressive straight men, are repulsed by the idea of another man's lips, hands, or naked body, appear to me to have their basis solely in culture. "yeah, im all for gay marriage, but i would never kiss a man, because that would be disgusting". im not saying that every man is actually attracted to other men, but how much grosser would that really be than kissing a women that you werent attracted to? its kind of frustrating for me to be in this summer camp bubble of people that have had no exposure to the ideas that compose the shared framework of most of the people i interact with. when i try to explain that many if not most of my friends are queer (according to some sense of the word, myself included, although i hesitate to self-identify as such because i dont want to appear to minimize someone else's empowerment), 9 times out of ten i get "wait, so he's bi?". or when i try to explain why i dont drink - which i hate doing and only do when people ask and then get offended that i dont want to tell them - if im in the mood to give them a more complete answer (ive taken to just saying that i dont like it, to avoid frustrating conversations), the part about how i perceive a relationship between drinking culture and certain abusive or dominant elements of our culture at large, people have no idea what im talking about. disagree with me, fine. debate me even. at this point, i almost miss being told that im offensively coopting someone else's struggle, because that rebuke contains the implicit message that my attempts to understand gender dynamics are aknowledged and understood. well, almost. and when it comes to sex work, forget it. i cant understand how the same people who participate in a culture that commodifies sex, replaces intimacy with conquest and domination, and in which all of the rules magically disappear after one drink, can really think that a consensual (or at least, as consensual as is possible when there is money involved) interactions with a sex worker can be unethical and disgusting. how can people take themselves seriously when clinging to puritannical moral systems so selectively? is like the passage in leviticus, in which god condemns men who lie with other men. he also condemns eating shellfish and wearing clothing made of mixed fabrics in the same breath, but you dont see too many protests that lobster and cotton-poly blends are responsible for 9/11. in this respect, my roommate, inti, is a godsend. he is a sex and gender studies major, and the only person in this program to whom i can vent.

this is not meant to be an indictment of drinking. i gave up that fight a long time ago. but my frustration with the college culture of drinking knows no bounds.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

ok, time to play catch-up. luckily, my memory is bad enough that i've already forgotten most of what i did last week, so ill just cover the highlights.

cordoba was much less interesting than grenada. the hotel was also not as fancy, but the tradeoff was that it had a pool. then the trade-back-off was that the pool wasnt heated and as soon as we got to cordoba it dipped by about 5 degrees (celsius). i and about 4 others went for it, spent a few minutes trying to fool ourselves into thinking that we were having fun, and then eventually gave up because it was freakin cold. i think jason was in the longest, for a total of maybe an hour.

dave and i decided to go for a walk to find food, and it turns out that the neighborhood in which we stayed is pretty dead. eventually we found a mall - thats right, an actual mall in spain - with a grocery store. we sat on the patio until about 1am eating sandwhiches that either consisted of brie, ham, and avocado or just avocado and salt, and argued about right-wing fiscal policy. it was probably the most good-natured political debate ive had in years, which is especially suprising given that, despite being socially progressive, he is a pretty hardcore neo-classical capitalist (or is it neo-liberal? von mises/FA Hayek? someone help me out).

the next morning we got up early to visit another mosque, this one gigantic, arcaded, and containing within it a cathedral that was build hundreds of years later by a king, i believe charles I, who didnt want to destroy the mosque because it was pretty. i guess he was happy to just kick out all of the people that might have used it.

we then walked around the old jewish quarter, which was small and kind of depressing, compared to the resplendence of the catholic and even islamic artifacts. but anyone that knows anything about history will not be suprised. i got lost, sat on a bench for an hour thinking, wandered around, and ended up eating burger kind fries for lunch because it was the only thing i could find that was vegan and not an overpriced salad without dressing.

on monday i went to the local velodrome with juan and his/my new friend pedro. a velodrome, for those who dont know, is a track for bike racing. it is relatively short and has very steep banked turns. it was a fucking blast. pedro won the first few races when we were just messing around because he has thighs like an iron man triathalete and a higher gear ration than juan or me. however, once we started taking it a little bit more seriously, i won the last three in a row by drafting off of him until the last bank, and sprinting down it to overtake him. each time i was able to hold onto my lead just long enough to finish first. now i see why all of my friends in new york are so into this shit.

sometime early last week, i finished the wind-up bird chronicle. the first half was probably the best book ive ever read, but then, about five minutes after i told dave that so far, it was the best book i'd ever read, murakami did that thing that i sort of hate where writers start skipping around with their chronology, and i lose my grip on the character. it lost a little bit of its mystery and cohesiveness, and by the end, i was re-attatched to the fate of the protagonist but a. not quite as fiercely as before and b. the end made only a litle bit of sense. im still not really sure what happened, or what about half of the charaters and sub-plots had to do with anything else, although im suspicious that it is something. still one of the better books i've read, probably better than kafka on the shore, and mom, i recommend reading it.

a few days later i finished love in the time of cholera. i had mixed feelings. marquez is a genius of description, very lighthearted with a good sense of humor, but i think his characters are weak, and seemingly deliberately so. i remember having a similar feeling about chronicle of a death foretold. it wasnt until the very end that any of that characters started to really take shape, and even then, only fermina daza and not the supposed protagonist, although the line is a bit blurry. still, it was a nice book with a very sweet ending, and had it been a little shorter, i think i would have been entirely content without there being any characters.

thursday night i went out to dinner with a friend of a friend, who, unlike the friend, is not a vegan straightedge hardcore kid but an air force pilot ex-hardcore kid. he was really nice and i had a good time, although i got a little tired of the conspiratorial bro-talk about that girl in that restaurant or whatever.

friday night was my first european alleycat. i followed juan and pedro and got third out of maybe 10 or 15. it was really short, basically a downtown sprint, and ended in the police chasing us with sirens on for going the wrong way. we lost them in the crowd of people in plaza mayor, though i did spend the rest of the night flinching at every flashbulb because the tattoo on my leg is pretty damn identifiable.

afterward we stood on the street in lavapies drinking beer or lemonade. i ended up talking a lot of the time to a spanish kid that was raised in australia and therefore speaks english. he is an ex-messenger turned boiler room stock trader (im not really sure what that means, but i know its not exactly legal) who is currently about to make an extra hundred K with some not so legal stuff involving diamonds. he does about a bag of coke a day and talks like it.

saturday night i went out to dinner with a friend and had a fabulous time. it was the first real vegan meal ive eaten in weeks, and despite the 20€ price tag i was stoked. we walked around for a while, met up with some other people, saw oceans 13 in english (i tried to read the spanish subtitles), and then walked in the rain for hours to get home. the metro is closed after 1:30 (at this point its about 2:30) and i am too cheap for a cab, so i convinced her and the guy we were with at that point to walk home a couple of miles away in the rain. it took about an hour, and i had fun. it took me another 45 minutes of walking about half an hour on a bus to get home.

on sunday i listened to music, took a walk, and read. all day.

yesterday i went to my first day of my new job tutoring spanish kids in english. ive thought of myself for years as someone who doesnt really like young kids. i never know how to talk to them, because i had a hard time wrapping my mind around someone not being intellectually capable to have a normal conversation with me, and i also dont like how rowdy they tend to be in groups. boy was i wrong. the two boys, 13 and 14, are totally sweet, good-mannered, and attentive. but the real treat turned out to be the 6-year-old girl, clara. she is the sweetest, most shy little thing ive ever met, and i want to adopt her and take her home and spend all day every day saying the names of colors and writing them in cursive with her. i very quickly caught on to how you need to talk to a 6-year-old, and i made up a game wherein we count to three in english together and then say a word, such as "yellow", that she is too shy to say to me by herself. i cant wait to go back this afternoon. and im also getting paid 12€ an hour (which is about $16) for this. what a deal.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

the bus ride from madrid to grenada is around 5 or 6 hours and there was some kind of weird rule that we couldnt use the bathroom on the bus because the trip wasnt long enough, so i spent a good chunk of the ride being extremely thirsty and not drinking anything, because, as those of you who know me are probably aware, i have a bladder like a 3 year old. we stopped once at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere for 40 minutes, and i got offered all kinds of plant-based table scraps from people who had just discovered that i am vegan. we got to the hotel, and inti and i went up to our room. i felt like an imposter, because it was hands down the nicest hotel room into which i´d ever set foot. or wait, did we go straight to the alhambra? maybe we did that first. no, thats right, we dropped off our stuff and then went to the alhambra. it was stunning. it turns out that i love arab architecture from the middle ages; the materials and designs are simple but somehow breath-taking. if im ever rich, ill have a courtyard built in my home like that one, because i swear it was the most peaceful place on earth.

our guided tour was only of the alhambra, so after it was over, we wandered around the other sites in a pack. i ditched the pack on the tower in the... shit. the something that starts with "a" and is across a courtyard from the alhambra. whatever. i was sick of being around people, and i had a hunch that the gardens of the generalife (i know what you´re thinking, its pronounced ghen-eh-rhal-LEE-fay) would be better experienced in relative solitude. i was right. turns out that the gardens are even more peaceful than the courtyard at the alhambra, and since i wasnt with a group, i managed to avoid seeing or hearing humans for stretches of up to 5 minutes at a time. i spent the latter half of my walk fantasizing about building a commune designed after the generalife in which talking was restricted to certain areas. yeah, when im a millionaire.

i found falafel on my walk back to the hotel, and while i was eating it, spotted the first south-indian restaurant i´ve seen in spain. i made a mental note of its location and promised myself that i´d return when i got hungry again. i spent a while reading, took a long shower, and then tried to walk back to the indian place. i got lost, realized that i had forgotten my map, wandered around a bit, then came back to the hotel and made a PB&J (bringing a loaf of bread and jars of PB and J turned out to be a very smart move). after "dinner", i went to a friend´s hotel room and sat in her bed reading while she watched a movie on her ipod. as far as i know, she was the only other person in the hotel that didnt go out that night. her friends kept telling her that she was missing out on the experience of grenada and that shed never have this chance again unless she came back. she replied that she didnt think that getting drunk at a club full of dancing tourists was really essential to the experience, and i think somewhere a straightedge band got its wings when she said that.

the next day we went to some old cathedrals and talked about gothic architecture. i was fascinated, since i never took art history, but i wont repeat the lecture.

the next stop was the alcazín (i probably misspelled that), the arab neighborhood in the hills across from the alhambra. of course it stopped being an arab neighborhood after 1492, but apparently it is starting to be repopulated. the tour ended at a little park with a great view of the city, where seemingly homeless men played beautiful classical spanish guitar for change, and stray dogs wandered around stealing hearts - including mine. there was this one dog... he was seriously the sweetest thing i´ve ever seen (except you, scout, you know you´re the only girl for me!). he was very mellow but a face-licker which gets me every time. unfortunately, he didnt try to follow me home.

we ate lunch at a super fancy restaurant in the hills. they made me a special salad without the cheese (delicious) and a plate of grilled marinated veggies (even delicious-er), and everyone else complained that there was too much fat in their steak.

next time: córdoba, el velodromo, and concluding thoughts on haruki murakami´s the wind-up bird chronicle

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

in case you were in suspense, i did not get a job as a messenger here. im only in town for 6 weeks and i speak very little spanish. plus there are only 20 messengers in this town, so even if i was better qualified, the likelihood of there being an opening would be low.

so back to... where was i, sunday?
in the morning i walked to school to use the computers, but it was closed, so i walked back. i spent about 5 hours reading, and then went down to lavapiés to meet up with juan.
juan is a messenger here that i met while he was living in new york for three months and working there. he was following me during the haloween alleycat and we started talking. fast forward 8 months and im living in his city. given that the only other people i know here are nyu students, and im not going to learn to speak spanish by hanging out with them, it seemed like a good idea to get in touch.
i met him at his house, where, not for the first time, i had to explain that i dont drink without looking like i was refusing an offer to hang out. we sat on his deck and i drank pineapple juice while he drank beer and smoked cigarettes. you know that part of hanging out with a relatively new friend when you dont really know what to talk about? well its even harder in spanish. but i managed to deal with it. after a while we went with his girlfriend to a falafel shop so i could eat, and then to a bar where i had another pineapple juice and he had more beers.
i asked him to accompany me to the welding shop the next day to translate, and not only did he say yes but he lent me his spare bike to use in the meantime. it felt good to ride again.
monday was the first day of class. its long - 4 hours - but not that difficult. so far we have just been reviewing, but i already feel like my spanish is better than a good portion of the class, so i dont expect to struggle. plus, no one else (to my knowledge) has a madrileño friend to practice with. at least not yet.
after class i wrote my last entry, but had to leave in a hurry to meet juan at work.

after leaving his work, we biked back to my place to get my bike. we went to the welder, who said that his son, the one who did the welding, wouldnt be back until later or possibly tomorrow. he also said it would probable cost 15€. we went to a bar. more pineapple juice and beer. we nerded out about bike parts. ah, the universal language of bike nerddom! he knows a guy that is selling some old italian stuff and might have some cheap cinelli track drops for me. it then occurred to me that i could buy a regular seat collar from the bike shop and use that to keep my seatpost in place until i took care of the welding. that solution was perfectly serviceable and cheaper. plus i didnt have to wait.

we rode to a neighborhood in central madrid where are the young people hang out (up until now i had been wondering where the nikes where hiding). we found an italian place that would make pizza without cheese, and sat in a plaza eating and drinking... pineapple juice and beer. i swear the guy drinks like 15 beers a day - yesterday he drank about 7 over the course of about 5 hours) - and never gets even the slightest bit drunk.

i biked home, which felt fucking great, and finished what is the what. after an hour or so of feeling nihilistic and hopeless (the picture that eggars paints of humanity and civilization is not a positive one), i ate some food, took a shower, clipped my toenails and flossed. i sat back down at my desk wearing a bathrobe and realized that even though nothing matters and all of life is suffering, its not really so bad. then i did my spanish homework.

after class today, i walked with an nyu kid to a retrospective of the photographer sebastiao salgado´s work in africa, which, coincidentally, included a lot of photos of the dinka tribe, a member of which is the main character in what is the what. my mind is still spinning with questions about eurocentrism, paternalism/cultural relativism, and human "rights". im also very new at trying to appreciate visual arts, and im not yet very good at appreciating or criticizing documentary photography. if i have any great epiphanies later today, ill be sure to let you know.

in two hours i have to meet nyu for a mandatory visit to the prado. i think that until then ill sit on the patio and read.

Monday, June 4, 2007

it appears that computer access will be somewhat sporadic in the coming months. the nyu computer lab closes early and is closed all day sunday, and ill be damned if im going to pay to write in this thing. thursday evening we had a walking tour of madrid, and afterward i ended up at a cafe with my new roommate, inti, and two other nyu kids. they had beers, i just sat. like most nyu kids ive ever met, most of the 66 kids in my program want to spend their time here "partying", think that being vegan is insane, are pre-med or business majors or are liberals majoring in humanities, and dont know anything about any of my interests or hobbies. that being said, they are mostly decent, reasonably intelligent people that i think i will enjoy taking classes with. this is an exercise in diplomacy for me, and so far i think ive done pretty well at not being an elitist prick.

on friday, we had orientation. it involved fewer ice-breakers than i expected (there were none). its kind of a blur by now. in the evening, we had a tour of the old stuff in madrid, which was quite interesting. i wish i had taken history classes, because it turns out that its something in which i am very interested. i guess ill just have to read actual books after i finish school. after the tour, i went to a turkish place and had this thing that they called a vegetarian pizza. it was sort of like a falafel burrito and was the first real meal id eaten, not counting the beans and rice that ive been cooking for myself.

the book stores here close really early, and on thursday and friday i was finished late enough with nyu activities that i didnt make it. i spend a couple of hours friday night working on a letter, and went to bed early.

on saturday, we had a day trip to segovia. segovia is fucking gorgeous, as are the castle and cathedral contained therein. more tours, more hanging out with nyu kids, and more allergies. for lunch, i split off from the group, because just about everyone wanted to eat the traditional segovian suckling pig at really expensive restaurants. i found a bar and got a lettuce, tomato, and asparagus sandwhich which tasted like nothing. the girl working at the bar was cute, but i didnt feel up to the challenge of flirting in spanish, so i started wandering to kill time until we were suppose to meet back up. i ran into another nyu kid who told me that there was a modern art museum nearby, so i checked it out. i still dont really get art, but some of it was cool, especially a piece which consisted of little kids´ stickers arranged to form letters which spelled "i love making cutting edge art". har har. after the museum i decided that i might as well brush up on my spanish, plus you only live once, so i went back to the bar, this time with another kid, to get some juice and talk to the waitress. i understood about 75% of what she said, including that she was from valencia but spending her summer in segovia, where there is nothing to do but hang out and drink (shocking), that valencia has beautiful beaches that i should check out if i have a chance, and that my spanish is good enough, albeit barely so, to have a conversation with a stranger, crack a couple of jokes, and give her my number. she blushed, but i dont expect a call, given that segovia is over an hour away from madrid.

we got back to madrid just in time to buy some books. the selection of books in english is rather small and they arent cheap. i bought 4 books for about $70: what is the what, by dave eggars; love in the time of cholera; something by margaret atwood (someone suggested that i read her books but i dont know anything else about her), and the windup bird chronicles by haruki murakami (im sure i just butchered the spelling of his name). i figured that with so much free time and so few distractions, i would be able to break into the classic literature that ive skipped over and dont have the attention span to read when there are alternatives, but gabriel garcia marquez was pretty much the only author i could find. they also had dostoyevsky, but not the brotheres karamozov, which is the one i wanted to read.

more beans and rice for dinner.

i need to go meet juan at his job and see if they have a position for an experienced messenger who does not know the city, speaks poor spanish, and is only free monday-thursday after 1:30. it seems unlikely, but this place is more expensive than i expected, so i could use the extra money. the rest of the weekend and day one of class later.