A chronicle of the whimsical jaunts of this guy as he goes around some foreign places looking for food.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back in Time: Back Home

It was a sunny Monday afternoon, and all the clocks were striking 13. Whoops, I think I have to switch my clock back to 'Western Hemisphere' time. Also, time to substitute commas for periods and periods for commas. The adjustment seems strange, and very dream-like in a way. Matt (The Rev) made an interesting hypothesis: the funny feeling you get coming back and experiencing familiar surroundings is the difference in your brain recalling short-term memory and long-term memory. Strangely familiar would be the word I would use to describe it. I keep waking up in the morning and find myself on the verge of panic because it feels so strange to be in a 'familiar' place, so much so that the familiar becomes unfamiliar. I have, for the most part, resumed life in L.A. and jumped back into the thick again.

Near the end of my experience, I definately began to feel a kind of homesick; one that made me regretful that I could not endure more travelling, but also yearning for familiarity to establish a sense of conclusion. The kind of ubiquitous anxiety about finding your train, place to sleep, or even proper directions keeps you on the edge, as well as motivated to keep going. My sabbatical in Austria relaxed those tendencies to a certain extent, but I had my last little nip of travel when I left Austria for the last two days of my journey.

From Salzburg (a city I had seen last year, and did not have the desire to see again) I took the train into Munich; it was my last cross-border train ride of the trip. I was fortunate to find people to host me for my last few days in Munich. Their names were Andrea and Klaus von Saucken. I met Andrea in Austria and, in keeping with the spirit of hospitality of that experience, she invited me to come stay with her for my last night. Andrea is a retired school teacher and Klaus is a classical choralist. Always with the interesting folk, I seem to be.

They live in Solln, a small, sleep suburb south of Munich. They were fantastically helpful. I must admit, I was quite worn out on running around, so I spent a good deal of time reading in their basement guest room or tending to their 18 year old cat Ulysses. Despite Klaus' mild deficiency with English, I was able to have very long conversations with them, with the help of Andrea's very capable grasp of the language. They were very content and joyful in their lives. Their two children were already grown, with one grandchild. They didn't seem to have many complaints and were tirelessly committed to making my last day comfortable. I wish I could say I was tireless about anything at that moment.

The return journey consisted to leaving Andrea and Klaus' at 10:30 PM, sleeping in the Terminal at the airport until 5 and getting on a plane to Heathrow at 6:30 in the morning. Then at Heathrow, where just days before a few thousand passengers had been straded after a strike by the catering union, I borded an 11 hour flight back to the States. Unfortunately, with the strike still happening there was no food on the plane; a problem to say the least. No matter how many times you serve water, tea and coffee, the void is not filled. It was most certainly not the worst plane experience I've had, but I breathed an enormous sigh of relief as we hit the ground in L.A. and I saw the bright, bleaching sun reflect off of the tarmac.

After the anxiety and deprivation of the flight, I went straight to El Tarasco for a burrito and tall glass of beer. It was a wonderful way to end the experience.

I certainly feel some pressure to produce photographic evidence of this grand trip of mine. All I can say is, in due time. Most of the memorabilia will come in other forms, as I did not take many pictures as the whole picture-taking scene left me a bit put off. I felt like I needed to experience it with my eyes and not through the murky wash of an LCD screen.

Well, from here, I'll sign off. If you want to know a few more stories, ask me sometime.

Capt. Casey Doran
Merchant Navy
H.M.S. Artichoke-Heart

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Keep on keeping on

Safe in Austria now. Prague moved by quickly. It seems four nights is about the upper limit to be staying in a big city without supplemental activities. Touristing gets redundant and boring after a half dozen European cities.

After a brief night in Vienna, I arrived in Austria with the intent of shaking off some of the anxiety that so much moving around leaves you. I'm staying in an old German summer home in the small town of Ebensee. The house sits halfway up a hill along a street called Mendelssohnstrasse (strasse meaning 'street'). The street is named after a significant figure in German Jewish Intellectual History: Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was a philsopher and scholar who focused on the 'Immortality of the Soul' and sought to bring modern enlightenment philosophy to Judaic studies. He was a formidable thinker in Kabbalic and secular circles alike.

The history of the house is a bit fuzzy as the house was apparently constructed (originally) by a descendent of Moses, Felix. All that I've learned is that the great-grandfather of the current owners bought it in the Twenties. Since then it has remained in the hands of the same family. Benji, my friend from LMU, his older brother Nathaniel and his mother and father, Barbara and John Theim, try to maintain the old tradition of the Austrian summer home by hosting a managerie of guests every summer. All in all, at least a majority of the Thiem family spend around 3 months out of the year here. From my estimates as many as 18 (maybe 20) people could stay here... that is if couches and inflatable mattresses are utilized.

The house sees quite a few "regulars" who stay here every year (or nearly every year). Some of the notable guests are Claudia: who is Nathaniel's (or Nat as he's more commonly referred to) wife, James: a Britain-born pensioner from the Island of Gurnsey, Omi: Benji's German grandmother, and the Rainers: a family of 6 (4 small children) who enjoy the whole gambit of outdoor activities. These are just a tiny sample of the guests here, while there are, I would imagine, a half dozen more I may have missed last year and this one as well.

Breakfasts and dinners are taken collectively. While the responsibility for the preparation of the meals usually falls on Barbara's (capable) shoulders, the clean-up is exclusively the job of the guests. The dishwashing duty usually rotates, but the order is informal and uncategorizable. For instance, I've washed dishes (or at least helped put dishes away) at least once every day. The family looks down on those stingy guests who outright refuse to chip in with the clean up. I, for one, try in every instance to offer a helping hand so as not to wear out my welcome.

One of the particularly delightful occurances is the evening music. Every few days the talented Thiem family, and whatever chance guests happen to be staying, serenade us lucky visitors with some classical music. It's always delightful, even though the musicians may be out of practice sometimes.

This area of Austria is Salzkammergut (which roughly translates to 'Good Salt Halls') known for it's ancient salt mines, lush green hills, steep mountains and countless lakes. For this reason, it's a popular vacation spot for Germans, and all others. Hang gliders, wind surfers, hikers and rock climbers are all over. It is not uncommon to see more than a few middle-aged, barrel-chested Germans barely managing themselves into those stylish European speedos. All in all, it's a lively place to relax in. I've already tried my hand at rock climbing (at which I was unable to complete a full ascent) and a good, but brief, hike. I'll probably be out again in a day or so, if the weather improves and if the callouses on my feets show signs of subsiding.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But, I believe a few local musicians may be visiting on Thursday night.

I will return to my novel, something lofty by Gore Vidal, and hope to find a clearer sky tomorrow morning.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

Everyday is getting further and further between days

Again, apologies for the gaps.

Back through Copenhagen; breezed through. Mostly fond of my time in Berlin.

We stayed with a girl Cameron had known as an exchange student from High School. Now, 10 years after the fact, was gracious and kind enough to let us stay in her apartment for a few days. Berlin is an amazing city, with ultra-modern office buildings and consulates perched next to half-century old bullet hole marked buildings. Graffiti peppers the entire landscape, on every imaginable place, even the restrooms and stairwells of 'respectable' restaurants. Squatter clubs appear and disappear every few years in former East Berlin neighborhoods, only to be shut down, and reappear 6 months later in another unoccupied building. The streets are full of friendly young adults commuting on bikes. The subways and above-ground rails are fast and ever present.

However, the strains of the city's bisection are still visible. Some old East buildings don't have gas heating; adventurous and broke residents still heat with coal. Drab apartment buildings tower on the landscape, framed by uncountable construction sites. The city is progressive and growing, even in the face of wide-spread unemployment. A fascinating place to visit, and I surmise an amazing place to settle for a few months.

A comical interlude --
After getting out of the Checkpoint Charlie museum (chronicling the history of the Wall) Cameron and I sat at an Italian restaurant up the street to relax our throbbing feet. Afterwards we made our way to the 'Topography of Terror' one of the only historical sights about the 3rd Reich. It's all outdoors at the demolished foundation of the 'People's Court' building that summarily sentenced thousands of political dissidents to death sentences. In the middle of the grotesque yet fascinating history lesson, intensely crippling gastrointestinal pains began to hit me. Seeing as how there was a museum adjacent to the site, we made our way, noticing that there was an enormous line out the door of the building. Cameron quickly asked the doorman where we could find a toilet. He points to the building across the street.

The building, which isn't identified by a sign, is under renovation (like, it seems, a quarter of the buildings in Europe during the summer). We approach the building, guarded by a lone Polizei officer, and the giant glass doors open for us automatically. We step into the foyer, noticing the place looks like some sort of museum, but it's closed. The lights were half off, and the information desk was vacant. My intestines not letting me be deterred we searched frantically for the nearest bathroom. Luckily, it was within a few meters of the door and we were able to avert appreciable disaster.

Emerging from my quick escape, Cameron was ready to answer the burning question: what is this place? She hands me a brochure, smiling, which reads: German Parliament, House of Representatives. From here on, I will profusely be grateful to my savior the German Parliament.

With that, I should release this terminal. More of Prague awaits. A small, old city, saved from the ravaging bombs of the Second Great War, recently released from the bonds of Soviet Communism. More on this later.

Capt. C

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Playing catch-up, full of mustard

Time to bring things up to speed. Since Cameron joined me in Europe, everything has been put into overdrive. Having another person along with your certainly increases the amount of sights you are motivated to see in a day.

Sweden came and went. Stockholm is a large and beautiful city. It certainly geared itself well for masses of shoppers. The main drag of what used to be the Old Town, Hotorget, is now a franchised-out, busting-at-the-seems shopping street. It is built on three levels, all cross-crossing one another, over and under and disappearing into the side of a hill. The topography of the 'center' of the city is a tiny archipelago squashed between two land masses to it's north and south. The north part is by far the most modernized, where the south it's much quieter and more residential.

When Cameron arrived we move to Langholmen, a former Swedish prison to the south of the city. The room was small, but modern. The mirror in the main room is tall and thin, and it looks to be shaped like a guillotine. They have a whole museum tracing the history of the prison, up to it's closing in the 70s in favor of a larger prison. If my memory serves, it had to have been 300 years old. For a good portion of it's existance, the prison was turned into a textile factory, whereby the state and the prison guards, got extremely wealthy from the profits. The small harbor surrounding the prison is actually quite beautiful, and it houses a good number of small boats from the residents surrounding.

We stayed back in the city for the last night. We tried to catch a few museums to make the tourist experience a valid one. We took a ferry out to one of the Islands in the harbor separating the north and south. I believe it was called Djurgarden, and it is home to an aquarium, a zoo and a few other museums. Most of interest was the Vasamuseum, chronicling the construction and subsequent destruction of 17th Century Scandanavia's most elaborate and expensive warships. Unfortunately, it's maiden voyage lasted only 40 minutes as there was not enough ballast in the bottom of the boat. A few gusts of wind blew is over, it capsized and sank, killing 50 people.

It wasn't until the 1950s that the ship was lifted back up from the bottom of the sea floor. It was remarkably well preserved as the restoration process took almost 25 years. More than 90% of the ship is intact, the rest being reconstructed using methods similar to the era. On the whole it was quite fascinating, and nigh intimidating to stand at the bow and look up. One also got the distinct impression that living on board a ship such as that would be horrific. Quite remarkable.

After that, back to Copenhagen, which is where I am now.

But, enough with the kibitzing, it's time to catch the train to Berlin (and to cheaper beer). More on the way.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Misirlou... the IE textbox cache is going overboard

Much speedy wickedness happening. Oslo came and went. I only spent two nights there, but enough to know that I would definately want to return to visit again.

In Oslo, I stayed in a neighborhood just north of the center of the city called Grunnenlokka. It's aparently the hip, young neighborhood. I stayed at the flat of an old 70-something guy named Arve Naess. He rents out three or four rooms in his 4 story building just at the edge of a nice park. He spoke barely enough English to get by, as was evidenced by the little signs he had written and posted throughout the apartment directing 'Tourist' visitors to clean up after themselves. He was very kind as I arrived just before 11 at night (because of the aforementioned delay in Sweden). The room was very small, but quaint. Adjacent to the only bathroom in the flat, the room was covered in cryptically grammatized (my made up word) tourist warnings and peppered with framed pictures of old sailing ships. There was a small television in the room atop a wooden entertainment center brimming with Norweigen celebrity magazines, all at least a year old. All in all, it was cozy, and the price was right, about the same as I would have paid at any of the city's hostels.

Since I had been travelling for the whole day, I was a bit wired, so I wandered about the happening hood to hit a few bars. Norweigen beer is nothing to write home about (so I won't... damn, I already did) so I did a bit of surveying. I got a delicious Calzone (apparently very popular in Oslo) at the corner late night bakery and made my way to the large park next to my building. It was about midnight, but there were a good 3 dozen kids all barbeque, drinking beers and chatting away happily. Even though Oslo is very far north, there was still close to no light out, but that didn't seem to matter. After cruising around a bit, I decided to turn in.

I sauntered quietly up the steep stairs to my rented flat, and after a bit of tipsy navigation, found the door. However, my key wouldn't open the door. I tried for a solid half hour to make it work, but I reluctantly resolved to ring Mr. Naess for his help. The door directly across the hall from mine read 'Naess' on the little metal placard next to the buzzer, so I naturally assumed it must've been his. I rang 3 times, waiting a good five minutes for a response. Then a woman's shrill voice shot out asking what I wanted. Stunned I told her I was looking for Arve. She began to explain that he didn't live there, that he lived upstairs. I walked to the next floor, to see that both doors on the floor had placards reading 'Naess.' It was obvious that the whole family lived in the building.

Arve's son came out in his skivvies and tried to help me, himself unable to pry the door open. Then, seeing no other alternative, he woke his 'Papa' by pounding on the door and belting out some Norweigen. Needless to say, the situation was resolved, and I tried to tell the old man to apologize to his son and daughter for me, but I had the feeling that this may have happened before. It was an alltogether embarassing scene, forcing grown men to entreat into the hallway in their knickers, but they were all polite and understanding (in a broken-English sort of way).

The next day, my first full day in Oslo, was of course beautiful. It's a great city (albiet a little expensive) and surprisingly the least kempt of the Scandanavian cities I had seen so far. The real meat of the city was so small, it was a comfortable walk to see all of the salient sights. It was quite enjoyable. Oslo would be my first choice to return to next time in Scandanavia.

In Stockholm now and looking forward to meeting Cameron here tomorrow evening. The sky is the limit.

I'll be off now to find some fuel.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Interview with the Mother of the first Freeborn

Today I'm stuck in Goteborg, Sweden at the train terminal. Thank goodness for all of these ubiquitous cheap internet terminals... keeping in contact with the English-speaking word is definately a plus. I took the 8:30 AM train from Copenhagen with the intent of skipping right onto the train to Oslo, Norway. However, unbeknownst to me, there was construction/repair being done to the rails somewhere between hither and thither, so a good hour and a half of the ride was transferred to the bus line. Well, I didn't know this upon getting here, so I missed the bus to Thorrland (or something like that). Annoying as it is, the only thing I can do is read the Rail schedule book I have, try to plan it as conservatively as possible, and hope there aren't any monkeywrenches thrown.

So, while I wait a couple, three, four hours, I should probably digest last night visiting Copenhagen. Last night, I went to dinner at a great steak place near the Tivoli amusement park downtown. I had a 1 liter flute of their homebrewed beer (which they took my left shoes and gave me a wicker clog as a deposit, just in case I was too drunk to remember to pay my tab) and decided I would hit up a few more sights before I headed back to the haystack. I made my way to Christianhavn, which is the place where most of the palaces and royal building are. It's basically a harbor, or was a harbor, bisected by an inlet from the sound. Two bridges cross over the river to the island that the majority of Christianhavn is housed. Along with the quite modest castles on the island is the infamous "free city" of Christiania.

Christiania is basically a commune started in September 1971 by a bunch of free-wheeling hippies, back when the world was tolerant of their types. The city, really just a dirt roadway splattered with a few dozen buildings (old and new) running through a semi-parklike area. Since it's inception, a commune based around (of course) peace and tolerance has stood. It actually declared it's independence from the rest of Denmark when it was created. There is actually a sign as you leave the city that reads: 'You are now enter EU.' The place has been, among other things, an area from which anyone could go and purchase soft drugs (marijuana or hashish) and generally sit around willy-nilly in your skivvies. Think of it as a Scandanavian Golden Gate park. However, several years ago, when a new political party gained a foothold on the Danish parliament, it decided to try and clean up the place a bit. Most of the literary sources I've read acknowledged that a large part of the motivation for this came from pressure from the United States threatening to revoke it's 'Most Favored Nation' trade status. So, they came in a few years ago (4 or 5 years, not sure really) and took away all of the stands (on Pusherstreet) that were overtly advertising the sale of soft drugs. Of course, this was a major change, as Christiania had existed almost as it was originally for over 25 years. The stands disappeared, but the dealers are still there. Now it's common to see groups of 4 or 5 police officers casing down the main drag several times a day, handing out fines for possession or use.

I arrived at Christiania a bit late, probably after 8 PM, and it looked as if most of the days activity was winding down. There were several places blasting loud music, stands selling hamburgers, plenty of bars and an uncountable number of dogs running around freely. I saw the same kind of people you's expect to be roaming around Haight-Ashbury or Lithia Park. Of course, there were a lot of kids (teens to 20s types) there as well. Mind you the drinking age in Denmark is 16. The pushers were certainly there and visible, they just seemed to be keeping it on the downlow. I hung around for a bit, had a Tuborg (Denmark's most popular beer next to Carlsberg), played with a few of the rambuncious dogs and was on my way out. I was strolling on another path trying to find my way out, and I caught the site of an older woman sitting on a wooden bench behind one of the courtyards blasting a sort of Reggae/HipHop blend. Having got pretty much blank stares or averted eyes from everyone else who seemed at home there, I thought I would try to ask her a few questions.

I didn't know it at first, but this woman was living in the village at the beginning of it's inception in 1971. Her name is Kirsten Harwood, a Native Dane, and still a resident in the area of Christianhavn outside of the commune. We were able to strike up a fairly long and insightful conversation as her English was quite good. She said that she had learned English in Australian, where she had lived for 2 or 3 years in her youth. She was a window-dresser by trade, in the days that a window-dresser could make a living in a city. She got very much caught up with the quest to live free and with as much love for her fellow man (or woman) as possible. She and a few other hundred people established the city of Christiania on the site of an abandoned military base. Unfortunately, the soil was polluted from the chemicals dumped on the base, so they could never grow their own food in the village. She recalls spending all day sitting outside, playing music and singing in large groups, and planting the city's gardens. She lived in the city for the first 8 years of it's existence, at which time I gathered she married someone and moved out of the city. However, she was pregnant when she first lived in the city and actually gave birth to the first-born son of Christiania.

I actually met her son (who seemed more interested in playing with a puppy and tending to his "business transactions" than talking) who had been living in Christiania for all 34 years of his life. Kirsten seemed very proud of her son as well as another son, whom she said was aged 17, and also very happy to still have Christiania to come and relax in while her apartment was unbearably hot from the beating summer sun. She seemed very content to sit and watch the trees and reminisce about the "old days." She didn't seem at all concerned with the drug culture, but explained to me the significance of the symbol that was painted next to the marijuana leaf on the side of a building. It's a pictograph of a fist smashing a need to pieces. She talked about how the heroin nearly tore the community apart some years ago. She said that the responsible citizens all banded together (physically, linking their arms together and cornering the accused) to banished them from the community. It seemed like an inspiring act of unity, especially to protect the use of marijuana which she exclaimed "is much less worse than alcohol." Mostly she seemed very concerned that the Danish government is attempting to plan to demolish the village in January of next year to make way for trendy, expensive apartments. She crooned with so much passion as she said: "They can't take it away, they just can't!" waving her fist in the air.

I was so astounded and felt very lucky that I ran into this woman who was so willing to share the personal history of the place. I got the sense from her that the recent demolition of the pusher stands and the frequent visits by the police (whom she dislikes strongly because they give her "bad vibrations, like the Beach Boys, but bad instead of good") are signalling the slow end of this incredibly unique and marvelous place. I truly felt like this was an instance where the judgements of foreigners, like the Americans, were truly wrong and the only reason why this place is in jeopardy of being shut down is because as it exists, it is a challenge to the hypocritical and draconian drug policies that the West wishes to instill upon the rest of the world. In as much as we would want those not from our home to not direct our behaviors, ideas and ways of life, so do the citizens of the last Free State, Christiania.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Losing a day here and there...

My apologies for the delay in posting. I was actually travelling from Amsterdam to Copenhagen (or KĂžbenhavn as it's more rightfully known) on the NachtZug (or night train) for about 15 hours. It was quite an experience. Sleeping sitting up is not altogether different than on an airplane, a little easier, but still difficult. Travelled with two sets of dirty Americans: the first, Austin and Sara, fresh out of college in Vermont and are set to be travelling for 4 months. They were hopping around Europe separately with the intent of meeting up later (as I am with Cameron). The second: Sam and Becky (I think) from Oregon (Portland Area) still in college, naive but adventurous still. Also travelling with the above two was a guy (whose name I didn't catch) from Davis, CA who had been studying abroad in Copenhagen for the past year. It was quite fascinating to have these short jaunts of interaction with the expectation that you will probably never see them again. It's exciting, but a little disheartening as well.

Because of this, I most certainly am looking forward to meeting up with Cameron in Stockholm. I realize (and if I stated this previously, I apologize) that I may not be as ready to be travelling alone as I had originally thought. It does take a feat of mental fortitude that I am still trying to master.

I stayed at the Sleep-in-Green hostel just north of city. I was in a room with 20 beds or so, and probably got a good 10 hours of sleep. It was rather sparse, but had a cozy little common area with VCR and Television. I tried to watch some bad move with Christopher Walken (YOU GOTTA RESPECT THE WALKEN!) called 'Reporter in the Warzone' or something like that. The subject was Walken, playing Don Stevens, the sensationalist TV reporter from ABS news, covering the civil war in Beirut in the early 80s. Highlights of the film, watching Walken attempt to pretend to be scared of gun fire, running comically from gun fire, and hearing him refer to Yassir Arafat as "Mr. A" in his silly voice. I would normally shy away from killing valuable sightseeing time with watching bad Eighties movies, but I was exhausted yesterday and will be back through Copenhagen with Cameron next week or so. I was so exhausted that yesterday, while waiting for the lockout period in the Hostel to end, I fell asleep on a shady bench by the river.

Tonight I'll be staying at a fairly affordable, modern looking hotel called the Cabb-Inn, right down the street from the train station. I think it's good for me to mix up the hosteling with the hoteling, as it can be very draining sleeping in the same place as 20 other kids.

Last night was the last day of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. I am a bit sad that I didn't get to see more, but I saw about 4 great acts ranging from lounge jazz to some wicked experimental jazz to a dixie-land style marching band. These Danes know how to boogie. It seemed like everywhere I walked, I could faintly hear the distant playing of another act, in fact, that's exactly how I found all of them.

It's terribly hot here, which was not the case down in Amsterdam. I feels a great deal like SoCal. I came here to be cold, not to be warm! After I get my hotel room, I may consider trying to find a swimmin' hole.

Enough of this idle chit-chat, adventure awaits... in the form of a nice, cold glass of Carlberg.

I'm Audi 5000!