49 posts categorized "I was just thinking"

Star of Head Dead

Sorry for the limp title.  It was the wittiest quip I could do on the subject of Davy Jones' death.  Someone already made the obvious joke: "I guess it's just Paul and Ringo now." Adam Avitable will publish a Dead Celebrity Interview any minute.  Sean Condon updated his facebook status with the priceless I'm a Bereaver.  There are no jokes left to crack.

Isn't that what you do on the internet when a celebrity dies? You crack jokes.  Just ask Whitney. Via a medium, of course.


So let's not crack jokes.  And let's not celebrate Jones' contribution to pop-culture, perish the thought.  The social web is all atwitter with youtubes of his 1971 appearance on The Brady Bunch as Marsha's prom date.  (He was an ex-Monkee at that stage.  Perhaps he'd been promoted to chimpanzee?)  I watched it, and ralphed.

Let's discuss the contibution of Jones, and the Monkees as a whole, to avant-garde culture in the late 1960s.

Jones' finest work came as a Dadaist.  His New York Times obituary describes the Monkees as "benignly psychedelic", but in truth, they were double-breasted Duchamps.  Singing Magrittes. Cabaret Voltaire sur Mer

We forget that by the standards of mid-century, middle-class American TV, The Monkees verged on surrealism.  If there weren't a laugh track to tell us not to take it seriously, and Mickey Dolenz mugging for the camera, the show could almost reach capital-A Absurd. 

They unzipped the laugh track for their 1968 movie Head.  Sergeant Pepper it ain't.  Head scorched the career of the band with its curious brand of Surrealism Lite—confusing their romance-hungry teenybopper fans, and failing to capture an art-house audience who knew what real surrealism was.

Head had its moments, though.   The boys got to play dandruff flakes in Victor Mature's coiff.   Annette Funicello go-go dances.  And Frank Zappa chides Davy for not practicing his music—you may recall that in the Monkees, Jones played nothing more complex than tambourine.

(Zappa was one of rock 'n' roll's most high-minded musical snobs, but he harboured great affection for the brazen fakery of the Monkees.  Click this link to see him goofing off with a clearly-stoned Mike Nesmith.  Nesmith was one of the first group members to grow tired of the  sham and pack it in.  He didn't actually need the money.  His mother, a Dallas secretary, invented Liquid Paper.  In her blender.  No, really.

This scene from Head recalls the Monkees' early days on the Columbia lot, during their first TV season.  Legit actors, incensed at the sheer fraudulence of the group, would leave the comissary when the lads arrived.  Watch for a cameo from Jack Nicholson near the end; Nicholson co-wrote the script under the influence of LSD.  Of course, anyone alive in the sixties claims to have been under the inflence of LSD all the time.  Sounds like an excuse.


He maintained his absurdist streak offstage, too.   Peter Tork recalls a time when the group had lunch at a diner, and Jones pulled an outrage reminiscent of that other great Dadaist, Barry Humphries.  Australians will know of Humphries' famous barf-bag/condensed-milk/fruit-salad stunt—Jones reprised it with perfect comic timing.

I wonder if there's a connection?  After all, Humphries and Jones shared a stage.  It was the London production of Oliver!, where one played Fagin, and tne other the Artful Dodger.  Not difficult to guess who was the master, and who the student. 

I Love You @wowiezowietuna, and Other Matters of Internet Hygiene


How about that new Twitter interface!  When composing a post, it didn't allow me to place the cursor at a point of my own choosing through the use of a mouse, but hey, let's not quibble.  It performed well enough to deliver a private Tweet from a certain @wowiezowietuna.

I'm not sure how @wowiezowietuna came into my Twitter orbit.  I followed him after he retweeted me—first because I appreciated the gesture, and second because anyone with a handle like @wowiezowietuna must be a wild and crazy guy.  Right?

Not long after, I get a private tweet from a certain Mr. Alabaster Smooth, real name Karl.  It was @wowiezowietuna.  He asked me how I got so many followers.  Here's my reply.

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Gosh, the guy is really hurting, and all I could do was sound glib.  I didn't even spend all my 140 characters.  I'm a bastard.

As of 8.08 am CET on 12 December 2011, Karl had tweeted 2,713 tweets, and they earned him a measley 12 followers.  By contrast, the Honourable Husband had published a meagre 172 tweets, and had 98 followers...hang on.  Fuck.  That dropped to 97. 

(OK, which of my Twitter followers is in prison?)

The Honourable Husband is a run-of-the-mill private user of social media.  He blogs.  He facebooks.  He tweets.  He puts his LinkedIn profile at the bottom of his emails.  He writes pompous reviews on TripAdvisor and booking.com, in the hope that hotel management will read his disgust at their flea-pits and offer free stuff to shut him up, or will read of his delight and upgrade him just to say thank you. Neither has happened.  He is uncomfortable with check-ins and geolocator services.  He's chuffed that someone invited him to A Small World.  People don't find his amazon reviews very helpful.  He's thinking about Tumblr.

On the other hand, the Honourable Husband is a communications professional, so he knows a little about the finer points of our new online universe.  But he ain't gonna tell you those.  Because the Honourable Husband's Rule #1 of social media is never blog about work.

Pleased to Meet You!

Let's look at Karl's dilemma.  Here he is, in his Twitter debut.

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Let's assume that your interest in death, Karl, is purely poetic.  If not, click here.

God is Dead. Nature is Dead. Love is Dead. What's next?  Make sure it's not you.

If you're a death-head on philospohical or aesthetic grounds, that's a different story.   Tweeting about Poetry and Death is as legit as tweeting about Britney and Kittens.  But find the right people to tweet at. 

That means go to Vienna.  

No, srsly.  The Viennese love death.  After a funeral, people go all gooey about the schöne Leich, or the beautiful corpse.  (In Austrian dialect, the words for funeral and corpse are the same.  How cool is that?) 

The recent funeral of Otto von Habsburg brought the city to a standstill, and lasted five hours.  Five. Fucking. Hours.

In over six-hundred acres, Vienna's central cemetery holds the remains of three million late residents—artist Andre Heller described it as an "aphrodisiac for necrophiles".  Families often make a day's outing at the Zentralfriedhof, enjoying the buskers and hot-dog stands, even if they don't have a particular corpse to visit.

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One of René Magritte's Seated Coffins, in the Vienna Funeral Museum
Photo links to source.

The reason you should go to Vienna is to obey the Honourable Husband's Rule #2 of social media.  Blend your online and offline communities. 

Those online friends whom I have never met, I feel familiar with—certainly familiar enough to talk in the flesh when the opportunity arises.  Neilochka, that treasured love-child of Mike Nichols and Bennet Cerf, is one example.  We have followed each other's blogs for so long now, he even put me on a Twitter list called Dated in a Previous Life.  He makes it a point to meet his online pals in 3D, and his online community is a place of generosity and love.  The next time I'm in Orange County, we're totally going out to one of those Onion Garden places for a pizza and margaritas because that's what you Californians do, right?

Another example, the marvellous nursemyra.  Why are we online friends?  Pretty much the same reason we'd be friends if we'd met offline.  She's warm, generous with affection and praise, knows art, loves human nature, likes to tell a good story, and looks hoochie-coo in lingerie.   Nursemyra is a big fan of Magritte's coffins.  You should follow her, Karl.

She and the much-admired Daisyfae, two women of like mind, began to comment on each other's blogs.  They met in Barcelona one year, and have become regular travel companions.  Young men quake before them, hovering between awe and arousal, as the pair cougar their way across the world every couple of years.  I feel sure that when we're in the same city, we'll meet in person over a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or two.  (Being gay, I am immune to their seductive weaponry.  Ha!  Take that, you vixens!)

Karl, you should seek online friends of the same calibre, and then make them your offline friends.  But here comes the sixty-four dollar question.  Will you find them on Twitter?


Karl sent me a pertinent follow-up question.

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Obnoxious?  Twitter is perfect.

Twitter seems to bring out the worst in people.  JetBlue needs to remind followers that their Twitter feed is, in fact, not their complaints department.  The little exchange in this link is the kind of venom that fuels Twitter, and it's only interesting if you're famous.  All the @s and #s ruin the comic timing.

Who makes a success on Twitter?  Justin Halpern, that's who.  The guy behind Shit My Dad Says. 

Probably, you've seen the TV show.  But have you read the book, and the tweets?  When Halpern was tossed out by his girlfriend, he went home to live with a father who did nothing but insult and humiliate him.  If you are raised in a home like that, you become the kind of guy who...well, gets tossed out by his girlfriend and has to go home and live with his—there is no other word for it—abusive father.   In the book, Halpern breaks up the onslaught of toxic tweets with anecdotes from his childhood, even more ghastly.  The cleaned-up version of Shit My Dad Says lasted a single season on CBS, but on Twitter, it has 2.9 million followers.  Sad.

Twitter culture?  I stopped following @buzzfeed when it told me about the most extreme Bagel Bites commercial ever, and the king of Sweden watching a strip show.

Twitter holds few joys for a sensitive soul.  And you're a sensitive soul.

Karl's Tweets: A Critique.

Since you asked, here are a few suggestions. 

First, a bit of tough love. You need to think long and hard about tweets like this one:

Charming, perhaps, to the right audience.  In a Haight-Ashbury coffee shop in 1968, after 11.00 pm and three bongs.  And to the following two tweets... 
  • We don't have to be cryptic; we have to be beautiful
  • Does everything have to mean something for me to say it?
...I reply yes, yes and yes.  You might like to put aside the brown spirits when you tweet; you don't want to become a tweeting drunk.  Or as the rad kids say, a twunk.  Alcohol and Twitter, I suspect, can lead to downbeat blurts:
  • I drink to get drunk like I write to get wrote.
  • The world sucks, get over it; it always did.
  • The Bell Jar isn't depressing enough
Of-fucking-course The Bell Jar isn't depressing enough, Karl!   Get yourself into Philip Larkin.  Compared to Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath plants tulips and plays with puppies. Larkin is man-sized maudlin. 
You're in the middle of getting a liberal education.  A liberal education demands a logical analysis of highly emotional subjects.  Relentless logic will reduce everything to the absurd. 
  • Absurdity is possible because we have reasoned it so.
  • Death is the nude absurd.
  • The Absurd is an imperative for ontological purity.
  • Is the idea of the Absurd rational? Is it rational to posit that such an idea is intellectually tangible?
I, for one, have ceased to be angry that our emotional investment in the world around us—with its beauty and joy and heartache—is pointless.  I could not engage my old college buddies with the following tweets—even if I could do it in such a nice way, reminiscent of Gertrude Stein. 
  • Because I'm passionate and crazy about poetry all the same; because I want to rail against it, abrogate it and detest it and throw it away.
  • Because I'm so torn and ensconced in the dialectic of confusion. Because it's cunning and petty and grandiose and rich, lofty and lowly.
  • Because logic has utility but is the warper of logic itself. AND more of what-the-fuckness.
What-the-fuckness is an elegant and vivid way to say meaninglessness.  But however elegantly expressed, Karl, it's snoozeville as subject matter.  Everything, when you  think about it, is absurd.  That's what thinking does to things.  Mankind spent much of the second half of the twentieth century kvetching about meaninglessness.  The time has come to resurrect the meaningful.

I wouldn't go too far with the Gertrude Steiney stuff, either.   I'm still scratching my head over this:

  • I looked for you looked for you I tried to look for you and wherever you were found I tried to look for you.
  • And if you were alone I tried to look for you and were found I looked for you I did not find tried looking for you.
  • These what is becoming is becoming is looking for I tried to look for what is becoming is becoming, come.
Which brings us to the ultimate question: why should you tweet about Poetry and Death, when you could write actual verse?  Every one of the following tweets show an exquisitely observant poetic sensibility.   Each could easily make a short poem.
  • Proportioned judiciously, we eat enough to die
  • Ghosts are just doing their job
  • Antique sounds, boots clopping on concrete
  • The morning yokes everything left behind in the night
"Eating enough to die" describes so many dieters, and their relationship to food—food as both life and death feels like a theme of our times.  The images we might see in a working world of ghosts demand a poetic description; the cubicle farm as haunted house.  Who makes the antique noise, and does he know how old-fashioned his footwear makes him sound? Is the strong clop of the boot, worn mainly by men, a statement of how dated strength as a measure of masculinity has become?  I wish I could write stuff like that.

Karl, when you do land a zinger in classic Twitter style, it's highly refined.  Again, these seek to be sentences in a larger, more involving work.

  • Never say: "I'm confused," Always say: "I'm not following you."
  • Work is a Christian ploy to tire us for sex.
  • One does not always need violence and destitution to live in a terrible neighborhood.
So, Karl, if you want to get the most out of the world of social media, don't seek a Twitter following.  You're too good for that.  Poems rarely fit in 140 characters.  (Unless, of course, they're haiku.  But don't get me started on haiku.)

Get a Tumblr.   It's the perfect venue for poetry.  Use it to find a community of like-minded souls who will enrich your art.  Then seek to meet them offline.  Go for quality friends, not quantity.

And as you say in a particularly nice tweet: Do not underestimate the value of simplicity and precision. 

Didn't mean to bust your chops, Karl.  But you did ask.  All my love to you, ol' cyber-buddy. 

The Meaning of Snot

Meaning of snot

The hashtag #dailydeutsch is a great source for learners of German who sport an English mother tongue.  It sometimes veers into philosophical issues, like whether there is an Englsih word for Schadenfreude—the conclusion was yes, and it's schadenfreude.

Thanks to Gilly in Berlin, yesterday's batch of daily Deutsch served up the word rotzfrech.  Literally, it means snot-rude, or in proper American English, snotty

Learners of German must be careful not to confuse it with kotzfrech, which if it existed, would mean puke-rude.  Vomit takes things to another level; a difference in degree which I'm sure would make a difference in kind.


Snot and impudence go together in both languages.  Do other cultures make the same association?

Arabic does, and the word is moukhati.  In Romanian, it's mucös.  The same goes for French, where the noun is morve, and the adjective is morveux.

Interestingly, a slang term for snot in French is caca de nez, or nose-poo.  I asked a French colleague if one might equally say merde de nez, or nose-shit.  She replied that latter would simply sound too rude.   French has many words which distinguish among degrees and types of rudeness.  (I guess it's like how Eskimos need twenty different words for snow; a response to the environment.)  One charming such expression is cucul la praline, to describe rudeness that comes from the self-absorption of the shallow; the metaphor literally means the cheesiness of the chocolate bon-bon.

Noses, and their byproducts, get a bad rap.  Poets can write volumes about beautiful eyes, but seldom do they praise a beautiful nose.  The eyes are the windows of the soul, but the nose is the catflap of the lungs.  Noses are all about ugliness; a hairy, drippy thing that you can't hide, right in the middle of your face. 

Unless you're Asian, of course.  You might wear a surgical mask when you have a cold, because then your nose is just too grody (and infectious) to bare to the world.   The Japanese find you incredibly rude if you blow your nose in public.

And why does American English conform with the rest of the world with snotty, whereas British English focuses on another bit of facial anatomy, with cheeky?

Why should we take snot as a measure of impudence, when snot could equally represent cowardice (as in snivelling), sickness or weakness?

 Humans are a fascinating species.

How were you born?

$5.99 from the Hillbilly Teeth StoreHow were you born?  That way?  The question scarcely troubles the gay communities of Europe. 

(Unless you count clergy in the Vatican.  Technically, they're a gay community, too.)

But in the United States, it sits at the core of the gay rights debate.  Advocates quote much science to show that homosexuality is innate, immutable and probably genetic; some of that science looks pretty dodgy.   The subject came up in a discussion on the blog of the redoubtable Mark Simpson—required reading, by the way, for anyone with an interest in issues of gender, sexuality, or culture at large. It got me thinking. 

Problem is, it got me thinking like a marketer.  (Readers may know, that's sorta what I do for a crust.)

The whole born-this-way question reminds me of chocolate. Specifically, chocolate with peanuts or chocolate with coconut.

You see, there are peanut people, and coconut people. People who eat Snickers are unlikely to eat Bounties very often, and vice-versa.

Most of us have tried both, at some time or other.  A few will experiment regularly over the course of their lives.  Many enjoy a bit of variety when the opportunity presents itself.

But true biconfectionals are rare. You work out your taste early in life, and it abides. No matter how much marketers try, we cannot change you. We have wasted a lot of money trying, over the years.

Does a genetic predisposition cause this abiding preference in the pursuit of pleasure? Marketing data suggest it runs in families. Or maybe early childhood diet or other environmental factors influence you. Maybe it just happens.

Problem is, coconut can be polarising. A few people love it, but lots hate it. Let’s imagine that someone got a hair up his ass about coconuts.

He screams from pulpit or television screen that coconut in chocolate is un-natural. It comes from strange places and brings tropical disease. It’s goddamn monkey-food, and anyone who eats coconut is but one step away from consorting with animals.  Coconut is disgusting.

What’s a coconut lover to say? 

  1. No, coconuts are perfectly natural and beautiful and pure.  Humans have eaten coconut for centuries.  They are part of my very being, and I can’t help what I like. Science shows it. Science gives us the truth, the truth is noble, the noble is sacred and the sacred is good.
  2. Fuck off. I can eat what I damn well please.

Why does the US queer community persist with the tortured logic of #1, when #2 is so much simpler?

Americans take sex too seriously. Sex is a part of love, but it’s the playful part. It’s fun, and the right to fun seems to have been Aristabratsroyalty Pacifierdivorced from the right to happiness. Perhaps it’s those dour Puritans at work, but Americans seem to see having fun as the opposite of abiding happiness.

Americans seek to dignify their choice of love-object with some higher purpose, as opposed to just saying that, for whatever reason, I want to warm my willy there.   Or if you're a lesbian, warm your...um, what exactly do lesbians do?

Unless you can find some higher purpose to everything, you're wasting your time.  You can’t just do something because you like it, can you?

Naturally,  I'm curious about the origins of my homosexuality—the same way, as a marketer, I am curious about the origins of the coconut-peanut paradox.

But not knowing how my homosexuality came about should not stand in the way of my right to practise it.  Just like not knowing how you come to prefer coconut or peanuts doesn’t stand in the way of me selling you the stuff.

And with that, the Honourable Husband decides he should really get back to selling  some stuff this fine autumn morning.

Photos link to source.

Comrades in Kitsch

Where is he gay today? Inner-city Sofia, Bulgaria Soviet Army Memorial Sofia 836
Never trust art you can understand.  At least, not art you can understand too fast. 

If you understand art instantly, without strain, the artist is trying to sell you something.  (You can trust me.  That's been my trade for a long time.)

Particularly important when you have an ideology to sell.  Look at the art of National Socialism, the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelicalism, Neoliberalism, or Communism.  There's no doubt what they're selling.

Communism even has its own art movement, and all.  Some call it Socialist Realism.  Others call this school girl meets tractor. 

Officially, the party line states that painting and sculpture should depict the world with utter fidelity, and in so doing, glorify the commonplace.    The flip side: anything a citizen finds in official, state-sanctioned art is the truth.  Not some destructive, unrealistic fantasy that diverts you from the path to progress. Not, in Marx's words, an opiate.

Keepin' it Real. 

The Soviet Army Memorial in Sofia toes the party line.  At first glance, the main statue seems standard-issue heroic.  The pose of a victorious soldier, holding his weapon high, set atop an enormous pedestal, shouts strength and nobility.  It commemorates the liberation of Bulgaria from the Nazis by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II.

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The builders designed the grand plaza, one assumes, for military parades. Nowadays, it hosts events like the finals of the World Strongman's Champions League in June 2010, won handily by Serbian favourite Ervin Katona.   You can see the Memorial in the background here and here.  

(We were actually in Sofia that June to see yet another contest of strength.  Bulgarians may eat goat, but they watch beef.)

When not hosting marches or meat sports, defecating dogs and skateboarders move in.

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Sad, because the sculpture is extraordinary.  The sculptor (whose name even the fiercest googling does not reveal) created several tableaux of soldiers being welcomed into a small village, both in high-relief and full 3D.  Cast in 1954, it resists the modernism of later Soviet-era monuments, and captures the emotions of a relieved populace in metal. 

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Common folk glorifying their military heroes is a theme in socialist art of the mid-20th century.  In the interaction of civilians and men in uniform, we often see socialist naturalism at its most endearing.

Of course, it's equally endearing in the art of the west.  As I stood that summer's morning in the middle of Bulgaria, what sprang to mind was none other than Norman Rockwell.  Others have noticed the similarity, too.

I probably don't need to explain Rockwell to American readers.  And even those abroad will recognise him as the high priest of Americana.  His covers for The Saturday Evening Post and the scouting magazine Boy's Life are the stuff of legend.  His art celebrated American life as one of community and abundance.  Of course, in a time of depression and wartime sacrifice, this was a bald-faced lie for many.

Most think of Rockwell as the epitome of wholesomeness.  But a queer eye can spot a trend.   

WNorman_rockwell-marriage-counselor2omen, if present at all, are self-sacrificing pillars of virtue, or coquettes who claim men as smitten victims. (It's shouldn't surprise us that Rockwell's relationships with women were troubled.)   

His most affectionate portraits of women showed girls as tomboys; Rockwell was credited with the first public appearance of the iconic character "Rosie the Riveter".  His Rosie seems an awful lot more butch than her later incarnations.

Rockwell seems at home showing men in the fellowship of other men, especially when men in uniform assert quiet but friendly authority over their civilian counterparts.  Men are desirable and sexy in his art—they show an unselfconscious masculinity and relaxed sense of humour; his women are highly stylised, and frankly, a bit uptight.

None of this gets too homoerotic, but it's definitely homoaffectionate.

We can't say the same of the Eastern Bloc.  It takes a truly prim, sex-blind culture to miss the blatant gay cues some of the statues.

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Kiss me, you fool!

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Flowers?  You shouldn't have!

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Adopt the inflatable sex-doll position!

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Do you detect just a little too much admiration for the male frame on both sides of the old Iron Curtain?  The Superhero physique seems at home in Rockwell, as well as in socialist art.

So it shouldn't surprise us that the Soviet Army Memorial earned a simple (but no doubt time consuming) make-over earlier this year.  The local English-language media reported on it, along with the graffiti-hounds at Bomb-It.   Bomb-It lifted photos from the best available source.  Ironically, that was the Voice of Russia.  I followed suit, and that's where the photos below come from.

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A Sofia blogger describes some of the background: Not surprisingly, many Bulgarians think that the Russians driving out the Nazis was rather a good move, and they still remember the event with gratitude.  Many in the community saw this as simple vandalism, rather than noble self-expression.

Bulgarian culture minister Vedhzi Rashidov put it this way.  "Never mind whether we like it or not, Bulgaria lived 50 years under the rule of Socialism and this is a part of our history. If any generation thinks this can be simply erased, it would be unnecessary.  Germany did not remove the Russian tank from Berlin, Austria did not remove [its memorial]"   In fact, the City of Berlin went so far as to restore its monument in 2004.

The Russians, in particular, were outraged.   The nerve of these people!  If any broad-chested socialist hero should turn into Superman, make it Vladimir Putin. 

At the same time, crowds were delighted.  This 360 degree view shows not only the painting in its full glory, but an enthusiastic audience lapping it up.  Alas, they couldn't enjoy it for long, since the Memorial was cleaned as stealthily as it was painted

Banksy Bulgaria BombIt 1
It didn't take long for the artist (or group of artists, for surely this work took more than one set of hands) to be dubbed the Banksy of Bulgaria, especially by the British tabloids.  Not sure about that one.  Banksy, I think, is much more subtle.  The Sophia artists left no room for ambiguity: below their work, they wrote the title Moving Forward with the Times.

If only the Bulgarian Banksies knew how traditional—even old fashioned—their work actually is. 

In many ways, the commercial activity which surrounds the Memorial is a far greater insult to the principles for which so many Soviet soldiers died, is it not?

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Frankly, even without its makeover, the memorial wouldn't seem out of place in a town square in the middle of America. OK, nowadays all those guns might be a problem.  But what could be more American than kissing babies?  True?

Copyright notice: Where not an original photo taken by the author, all photos link to source.  I believe that the use of all images conforms with US and EU rules on fair use in quotation and criticism.

Memory Attack

Sitting at Starbucks in the Odeonsplatz.  The music is entirely sourced from my parent's record collection, it seems.  Including, to my surprise, this. 


It is not, to put it mildly, easy listening.   But I smiled.

Fuck.  I'm becoming my parents.

EDIT: And while we're on he subject of mid-century American humor, how about a classic pie fight? (Hat tip to Chexydecimal).  In my house, teh Three Stooges were banned, for being too violent.  If this is violence, then I should expect to be mugged by a guy armed with a lemon meringue.


FURTHER EDIT:  I'm here a few weeks later, and my Starbucks has fast-forwarded. Minnie Ripperton and the Doobie Brothers.  Memories of my trying-to.be-straight youth.  Where I really tried to be my parents. What a Fool Believes, indeed.

EVEN FURTHER EDIT: Today, it's Isaac Hayes with the theme from Shaft.   A mid-week pick-me-up.  Better than caffeine.

My Favourite Blasphemy

Where is he gay today? Rila Mountains, BulgariaRila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 051

It reads: I'm a Virgin, But This is an Old Fresco.

A belated Happy Blasphemy Day, everyone.  Hope you all managed to score a zinger on September 30th.   Alas, you couldn't have burned me at the stake this year.  No chance to flip the bird at God.  Unless my ongoing contentment as an apostate Catholic homosexual affronts the Almighty in principle.  Surely that counts.

Note that being an atheist does not automatically make me a hereticHeresy is defined as telling untruths about God.  I merely point out the fact that religions contradict each other, and with very few exceptions, demand belief to the exclusion of all others.  Therefore, not believing in any one or more of them is the functional equivalent of not believing in any of them.  Absolutely true, Ninth-Commandment-wise.  But hardly a rousing hurrah for the Lord above.  

I didn't directly insult God—which, by the way, is the defínition of blasphemy—so I'll need to tell you about another time I landed a pie in His face. 

Opportunities to insult God ain't a dime a dozen, let me tell you.  The last time I sneered at the Almighty—in public earshot, so it makes a difference—was over a year ago, in early summer 2010, on a visit to Bulgaria. 

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We climbed into the mountains south of Sofia, to the Rila Monastery.  St. Ivan of Rila (876-946 AD) lived in a cavern, and his followers built the complex.  They wanted to bask in his holiness, and perhaps pick up the odd miracle or two, but found the caveman thing a bit too hard-core. 

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The Dupnitsa Eparchic Hilton.

You can stay in the monastery, and for many, it makes the perfect spiritual retreat.   The building contrasts monastic simplicity with rich ornament; everywhere one turns, one sees a detail which provokes a moment of contemplative pleasure.

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Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 148
Nice and peaceful, until you enter the chapel, or catholicon.

The door bitch, an angry brown-robed Rassaphore with a Rasputin beard, hassles you on the dress-code.  Uncovered heads, uncovered shoulders, or short pants earn you a puke-green hospital gown, which you must use to cover your immodest flesh.  They forced a burqua-style robe on the woman in the picture below, since God had never seen female legs before, it seems.  The Almighty thinks you're just overgrown ribs, ladies.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 148
Master Right and I marvelled at the lush ornament inside the church, and approached the altar.  Thinking that we might contribute to the maintenance of this UNESCO World Heritage site, we lit a votive candle, and made a donation far in excess of that recommended.  And in Euro, too, which at the time still seemed like a jolly nice currency. 

As we turned to leave, the mad monk tried to pull a swifty.  He took our candle from the candelabra, blew it out, and pocketed it.

Now, he may have had a reason.  Perhaps he wanted to make room for other worshippers to sacrifice—except, there was plenty of room left.  Maybe church authorities wanted to keep soot off the murals behind the altar—but then, they might easily move the candelabra to another position.  Perhaps he noticed that Master Right looked Asian, and doubted that someone of another faith could offer a sincere votive prayer.

Or, he was just an asshole.

I favour the asshole theory.  Every member of the uniformed clergy in this joint was scowling.  My childhood church in Pittsburgh, which followed the Roman canon in Carpatho-Rusyn, hailed from this part of the world.  They were grouches, too; our monsignor was a turd of the highest order.  Bile and resentment—or at the very least, grumpiness—oozed from ever pore.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 148
A friendly CSR asking "How may I help you today, pilgrims?"

Whassup with that?  Hadn't the Holy Spirit filled them with the milk of human kindness?

Of course, there's a good reason for being a grumpy cleric.  Sexual frustration. 

Celibacy must wear them down.  People get grumpy as hell without sex.  If I adopted a contemplative life like these guys, I can tell you what I'd be contemplating before long.

Now the way I see it, forcing healthy human beings to eschew their biology insults His creation.  It disrespects God's grand design.  Surely as much an affront to the Creator as any of the other inventive sexual uses to which God's creatures put their bodies. 

So I blasphemed.  I took a photo.

"No photo inside!" scowled the monk, followed by some other complaint in Bulgarian.

"How does it feel to be a virgin?" I asked.  "It must be awfully miserable."

"No photo inside!"

"I've had a lot of sex, and it's fantastic.  Would you like me to tell you what sex is like?"

He looked at me, fuming, as I added, "...sex with an adult, that is."

"No photo inside!"

So I took another photo, and we left.  Here it is.  Taking and sharing this photo, so that it may help you wonder at the glory of your God and the miracle that is mankind, may be a blasphemy. If so, may we always blaspheme so beautifully.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 082
On the way back to Sofia, we stopped for lunch.  We dined on a terrace, under a tree, next to a mountain stream.  Trout, caught that morning in the very same stream.  Another moment that caused us to marvel at what believers call Creation, and to enjoy it, gratefully.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 185a
I asked the waitress if she had any spare fish to slap on the back of Christian cars, since they like that sort of thing.  She said no.  What?  According to the New Testament, you can't run out of fish!

See?  A joke at God's expense.  Rather a nice blasphemy, to round off a (mostly) pleasant day.  Click on the quote from Salman Rushdie below, to join next year's Blasphemy Day on facebook.

Salman Rushdie Quote

This little tale reminds me of many half-written posts in my outbox about last year's fascinating trip to Bulgaria.  Stay tuned for more of them.

Art of the Earth, Part One

Peter Adams Ore WhatCan you remember the last time you touched the earth? 

I can't.  Maybe it was tending plants in a window box.  Maybe it was picking up a dropped fork at a backyard barbeque.  Maybe it was lying on the grass in the English Garden.  We live only a block from this urban miracle, yet the last time I set foot there, it was upon a layer of snow.

There are places where the earth asserts itself; where soil is part of the soul.  Two artists of my acquaintance are celebrating this in a unique way.

One is Peter Adams.  He and I once collaborated on commericals and film projects (some of which we have wisely chosen to forget).  But he has returned to his first love and (arguably) greatest talent, telling stories through photography.   

He recently produced a book about Hill End, 80 km west of Broken Hill in outback New South Wales.  The town cannot forget its relationship to the earth.  It is the source of its greatest wealth and riches: the largest gold nugget in the world, at the time, came from there.  In its heyday, it boasted 8000 residents.  Now, barely eighty live there. 

Peter has documented the lives and beliefs of those eighty people.  They show a keen awareness of, and attachment to, the earth which surrounds them.  "It's not 'til you're buried here that you can be called a local" said one.  Only when the earth claims you, do you truly belong.

His book, Ore What?, is an extraordinatily rich and lucid document, which in many ways sums up some of the things I treasure about life in Australia.  A love of place, a solid forbearance; and a melancholy that resists cheapening by sentiment. 


Another artist I know makes the earth a theme, in a wholly different way.  But more about that in a later post.


Where is he gay today?  National Car Parks Brewer Street Garage, WC1

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait
Master Right and I did a stupid thing.  We actually drove into the center of London, which, for verisimillitude, we shall refer to as the centre of London. 

Stupid for many reasons, but mostly because you need to park the car when you get there.  A berth in one of the capital's classier garages reflects the price of the real estate on which it sits.  Guards change as regularly as at Buck House down the road, and with almost as much ceremony.  Bespoke services cater to a gentleman's every motoring need.  The lodgings ain't cheap, but that keeps out the riff-raff, dunnit? 

Thus we found ourselves rubbing elbows with the aristocracy, or at least, denting their doors. 

Since Munich is no stranger to classy sheet metal, we could overlook the Maserati Quattroporte and row of Aston Martins.  What first caught my eye was a rare Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe; the cryptic message on the number plate suggests a chap named Ken wants to sell it for a mere 25 pence. 

But glance to the left, and we see another Phantom. A vastly more expensive one, it seems.

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait
No matter how well-heeled the neighbourhood, I didn't expect to see a car which, when last sold, fetched almost two point three million dollars.

I was blown away.  Could it be the famous "Psychedelic Rolls", once owned by John Lennon?  If you've read previous posts, you'll know that I've written about this car already, along with the other limousines the legally-blind Lennon used while his Beatle pals drove sports cars.

Psychedelic, of course, is a misonomer.  A gypsy wagon, which Lennon had comissioned for his son Julian's 4th birthday, inspired the design on the coachwork. 

Lennon took delivery on June 3, 1965.  It came finished in matte black, including rims and chrome, anticipating the current fad for matte paint on cars by at least half a century.  Thus kitted out, the car made its most famous public appearance: taking the Fab Four to see the Queen to collect their MBEs, the first honour on the road to their eventual  Knighthoods.  Well, for three of them, anyway.

Lennon soon grew bored with the Evil Empire look, and in 1967 ordered new livery.  It shocked many.  Little old ladies would attack it with their umbrellas in the street, cursing it as blasphemy against all that Britain held dear.



Lorne Hammond's official history of the car tells its subsequent story:

In 1977 John and Yoko needed a tax break and donated the car to a branch of the Smithsonian , plucking a hefty $225,000 off their taxable income.  The Smithsonian seldom showed it—they couldn't afford the insurance—and put it up for auction in 1985.  Christies expected to fetch little more than the original sum for which the Lennons wrote it off.   The car surprised everyone by pulling in a hefty $2,299,000, a world record at the time.

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait
The purchaser was a museum sort, too.  He was Canadian businessman Jim Pattison, whose conglomerate had just acquired Ripley's Entertainment, proprietiors of the famous Believe It Or Not museums.

We noticed a discreet sign touting the Ripley's branch in nearby Piccadilly.  So this incredibly valuable car was sitting in a public car park?  Believe it...or not!

Not!  I put it to you, your Honour, that this car is a forgery!

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait

An excellent forgery, but a forgery nonetheless.  Like all counterfeiters, they forgot a single detail.  The number plate. 

If you grew up a Lesney kid, you'll know that British numberplates started out in a simple alphanumeric sequence: ABC 123.  When those ran out, they reversed the order: 123 ABC.  With both of those options exhausted, the Ministry of Transport had no choice but to add an extra digit.  For the year 1963, all cars registered wore an "A" in the final column.  1964 cars sported a "B", and so on.

The plate on this car clearly reads DVB 341B, which marks it as a 1964 model.  According to Dr. Hammond, Lennon's 1965 Phantom sported the chronologically correct numberplate FJB 111C.  Mr. Pattison gave the real thing to the Royal British Columbia Museum, where it can be seen until the end of this month.  This car, clearly, is a cheap publicity trick!   Bravo.  I work in advertising, so I am in favour of that sort of thing.

The car seems to be following us.  At the Mensing Gallery in the Altstadt we sawthis work painted by (if memory serves) German artist Paul Thierry.   Funny, I always thought Brian Epstein was the fifth Beatle.

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait

Number 49

7049_Unimog_RMatchbox cars were my drug of choice. 

I would beg my mother to abandon her ironing board—an easy sell— so I could turn it into a miniature autopia.  The board's cloth surface maintained just the right amount of friction; a car could glide smoothly, but stay put when parked.  A hard surface like a table top argued noisily with a toy car, especially if equipped with those newfangled Superfast wheels. 

Speed vs. Accuracy

My childhood pals and I rarely raced our cars.   To send one scooting across a floor, or down a track, meant the whole thing would be over in an instant.

On a smooth surface, a toy might travel twenty feet in a second.  At a scale of 1:60, that's like a real car reaching 800 miles an hour— four times the speed of Formula One.  A beguiling thought, but pretty boring in real life.  If you've watched F1 from trackside, you'll know that the spectator sees but a split second of noisy blur.

We got down to eye level with these cars. They had to move accurately, and with grace. As we drove them down the lanes and highways of our bedrooms, they would pick up a fair clip, but we enjoyed the drive.  We shifted imaginary gears.  The little car bodies rolled in the right direction as we took corners.   

Many of the pre-Superfast cars came equipped with steerable wheels.  You tilted the car body in the direction you wanted the wheels to turn.  This pissed us off.   Body roll goes opposite to the direction of travel.  You don't have to study Newton to know that.

My room may have been a mess.  My shoes scuffed, and untied.  I ate like an animal.  But my Matchbox cars were tucked neatly in their carrying cases, often in the original cardboard box.  In a childhood full of chaos, these tiny machines reperesented order.  Thoughtfulness.  Peace.

Take your mind off thinking. 

Robert Pirsig makes some shrewd observations about mankind and machines in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.   He feels that mechanical work can give an "inner peace of mind".   Lincoln_logs_building_sets It involves an understanding of the physical world around you, its potential and limits, and becomes almost a form of meditation.

So does building things.  American children of a certain age will recall Lincoln Logs.  The toy seemed simple; you stack bars of stained wood atop one another in order to build primitive cabins, barns and forts. 

But a young mind had to deal with a number of  issues.  How do the logs interlock?  Which pieces stacked on which to form a triangle?  How many logs, of what type, did I need to build a particular structure?  For a four year-old, it demanded complex spatial reasoning and a good deal of patience. 

Did I actually play with the cabin, farm or fort afterwards?  No.  That wasn't the point.  I basked in satisfaction.   I was the master of something.  At least one bit of this kid's world was under his control.

Country rocker Skid Roper treasured his toys, too.  In a simple ode, he asks his mother what happened to my Lincoln Logs?  Right now, he needs their help.  He has difficult stuff to think about.  Maybe emotional stuff.  This simple task will occupy his head, so his heart can think, in its own way.

For me, the song rings true, even if Mojo Nixon spoils it with his stupid harmonies in the last verse.

What happened to my Matchbox cars?   To the best of my knowledge, they rest safe in the closet of my brother and sister-in-law's spare room.  I left them, well over a decade ago, for my nephew to enjoy.   I rather hoped he would treasure them as much as I did. 

But these matters are deeply personal, and he chose his own contemplative toy: Star Wars Lego.  He even named the family dog Yoda, after his second-favourite Star Wars character.  Darth Vader would have sounded odd for a dog.

Metal, in the flesh

Of course, to a modern kid, the collection amounts to little more than an historical relic.  But what history!

Mathbox gave kids like me a window on the glamourous world of mid-century European motoring: Ferrari, Lambourghini, Iso Grifo, Pinnafarina, Mercedes ambulances, Land Rover fire trucks, sedans called saloons and trailers called caravans.

When they watch Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, many Americans of my age get the joke about Ford Prefect thanks to Matchbox.

Living in Europe, one stumbles across a real version of these cars from time to time.  They almost always cause a double take—like when you see a celeb on the street.  Often, they don't look anything like you imagined them

Take the Lotus Europa (#5).  Given the shape of its micro-clone, I thought a Europa must be some kind of delivery van (especially since the toy version had a towbar) rather than the sexiest of low-slung, mid-engined cars.  Lotus only made 9000 Europas, but the Matchbox version sold in the millions.

The biggest shock came from my first glimpse of a classic Unimog (#49).   This was a bit of a dullard in my collection.  Interesting enough, but with the bright red and not-quite-sky-blue paintjob, it fell into the stocking stuffer category, rather than making it onto Santa's list.

The real thing packs a whallop.  I want this truck.  I want to ford streams.  I want to climb hills sideways.  I want to bowl over saplings as I make my way through a forest.  I want to ride this truck like a horse.  A real physical, gut reaction.

Unimog 2a
Quite a contrast to the feeling of calm, order and purpose I got its miniature counterpart.  A real Unimog is kinda sexy.  Even with the gooby bit on the front that lets park rangers pick up Otto bins.

An emotional lesson

Maybe that's part of growing up.  We learn to integrate the physical, the intellectual, the emotional. 

When I get in a car today, so many things cross my mind and heart.  The order and precision of the dials.  The slightly different engine note when the tank is full of 102 octane, rather than 95.  And from time to time, the feeling of mastery when you take over the gears and spin some higher revs than, perhaps, is prudent.

Those little cars affected me profoundly.  Today, I find it odd to  think that many use the word "mechanical" to mean "soul-less".  

My apartment, from time to time, may still be a mess.  My shoes are still scuffed, and often untied.  When nobody's looking, I still eat like an animal.  And the great big grown-up automobile I drive still feels a bit like the tiny cars I piloted across the ironing board.  My car a haven of peace and order, but at the same time, a source of incredible physical sensations and excitement.

Judging by the concept car below, the people who are designing the next Number 49 get it.  Hard to park, but awesome for parkour.  I might not buy one, but I'd sure as hell like to take it out for a spin.


All photos link to source.  Special hat-tip to the Matchbox Wiki and mrdiecastman for several hours of reminiscing pleasure