Saturday, October 31, 2009

Days for the Dead


Holiday wishes to all those who celebrate All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. This is a photograph I took about a year-and-a-half ago in Austin from the Congress Street Bridge. The Mexican fruit bat colony was leaving for the night when I snapped this, capturing some bats in flight as well as reflections from the Colorado River below. I like how it looks completely tweaked in Photoshop, but aside from a slight contrast adjustment, the photo is untouched. And as you can readily notice, I didn't even try to crop out anything.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bullet-Point Friday: Words

  • I somehow managed to pass the 10,000-word mark on Chapter Two this afternoon. That was my goal when I sat down several weeks ago to work on my dissertation. I figured five chapters of about 40 pages each would put me around a 200-page final product. Now I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of this topic. I need to relearn how to be done with a project, even a smaller project that's part of a much larger one.
  • Last night at the re-dedication ceremony for the Caelum Moor sculptures I grew increasingly annoyed with the wordy speeches by the self-congratulatory politicians who worked so tirelessly for the community and for public art. All I could think of was why did you allow this piece to be packed away at the water treatment facility in the first place all those years ago? Then none of us would be out here freezing our asses off while you stroke your own pathological ego.
  • Word on the street is that I'm running eight miles tomorrow morning after getting up at 4:00 AM. It will be my longest run ever. I'm amazed that I've gotten this far in my training program, but tonight the word buzzing about my brain is anxious. I need a small vacation from working so hard both on my dissertation and on my training. Then giving up my early mornings, Friday evenings, and Saturdays won't seem so painful.
  • I wonder if there will be any interesting poetry readings or events in New York while I'm there next weekend. There's something very appealing about hearing words spoken by professional wordsmiths in the capital of the world. Word.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bullet-Point Friday: Yoghurt

  • While I was visiting Berlin in 1996 after conducting my thesis research, I stayed with Andrew. How did I know the architect Andrew and then manage to meet up with him in Berlin? Well, that’s a long story: he was the American ex of a Czech ex of a Swedish ex. I guess that story wasn’t really so long after all. But how we actually met again in Berlin was funny: after arriving in the former Western exclave, I headed to the community resource center and asked about clubs in the city. I told them I liked techno and wanted to dance, and they directed me to a techno/sex club. There I was, fresh off the Polish farm, seeing things deemed illegal in most American states right before my eyes. In public. It’s easy to get mesmerized in such situations. You’re stunned, you’re turned on, and you don’t want to just leave after paying a hefty cover fee. I was standing in the corner, minding my own business, when Andrew passed by. He remembered me from a couple of months ago when we had met in Prague, and he invited me to stay with him while I was in the city for the next few days. I left the hostel in the morning, making my way by foot across the city. We got along very well, which is surprising even to this day. You see, I don’t tend to like other Americans, especially those I meet overseas. I’m an arrogant snob like that. Plus I have incredibly high standards, barring hanging out at techno/sex clubs. One morning before Andrew left for work, I was browsing through a cookbook in his kitchen, and I saw a recipe for yoghurt. I couldn’t believe that people could actually make such a thing from scratch. So I determined that I would start making my own yoghurt as soon as I returned to America. I eventually bought a yoghurt maker—an incubator of sorts—and made yoghurt over the course of the next several years. But making yoghurt is not nearly as fun as eating yoghurt. And having to add your own flavors instead of just peeling back the foil top of a store-bought yoghurt cup became a hassle. We finally got rid of the machine, and I’m certain the people who saw it in the Goodwill store had no idea what this contraption was used for.
  • Today I ate skyr for the second time. The first time was a few nights ago. It was deemed “Icelandic style yoghurt,” but technically it’s a soft cheese. It’s too sour for my tastes. Give me the Greek-style yoghurt any day, which tastes just like soft ice cream.
  • I’ve tried many different kinds of yoghurt dishes: drinking yoghurts, tzatziki, and raita, among others. But I prefer regular yoghurt. (Actually my favorite is the soy yoghurt.)
  • Writing about yoghurt is boring. I can only imagine how boring it is to read about it. Even with the techno/sex club thrown in.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bullet-Point Friday: The Bewitching Hour

  • When I still lived in Kansas all those years ago, I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified out of my skin because of the witch sitting in the chair next to the bookcase in the hallway that connected my room to my parents’. Her profile was unchanging; she seemed frozenly slumped there. Yet I knew she would reach her bony hand out to grab me should I try to walk past. The only thing I knew to do was to scream for them to wake up and come rescue me. But I too was scared that the witch would take hold of them if they came for me in the night. I could only stare fixedly at her profile. Unblinkingly. Trying to sense just when she would twitch a foot or tap a finger or softly clear her throat. Then all bets were off: I would most definitely scream. But sometimes I couldn’t wait that long. Shrieking, I would take my chance that my parents’ magic was somehow stronger than the powers of the witch frozen in the hallway shadows.

  • A few years ago a friend, who was beclouded by personal problems and anti-depressants, killed himself. I’ve been thinking about Theo lately because the fifth anniversary of his death was a few days ago. The rainy, overcast sky of early October—as well as the sounds and smells of the Texas State Fair—reminds me of the knots in my stomach when Stephen told me he was dead. Thinking of bewitchment in general reminds me of the ritual burning his seven (or “several”) sisters performed a few months after his death. Gathering together photographs of his estranged wife-cum-widow, they threw them into a barrel leaping with flames. I refused to participate: not because I wanted to defend someone I really didn’t know or care about but rather because I didn’t want to dilute the magic his family was effecting on their own. My feelings for this woman was nothing compared to theirs. I didn’t want to water down the blackness of their magic with my meager toss of her photo into the fire.

  • At 19 Lukáš was busily cruising for men several years his senior around Hlavní nádraží, the main train station in Prague. It was the summer of 2001—the season after Timothy McVeigh was put to death for the “worst terrorist attack in American history” and just a few weeks before what came to be known as the “worst terrorist attack in American history”—and I was studying political and economic theory at Charles University through a disreputable and ideologically-driven program through Georgetown. My colleagues and I referred to our economics course as “Fat Bastard Economics” because it was after all taught literally by a fat bastard of a professor who was only interested in indoctrinating his students in the fallacies of “free market” capitalism. In fact, one of his insipid graduate assistants had a tattoo of the significantly uninteresting supply-and-demand graph on his shoulder. Needless to say, after I suffered through finals and the compulsory social gathering that evening, I escaped during the middle of a conversation with Miruna from Bucharest with a “I’ll be right back.” I immediately headed for the elevator and ran as fast as I could as soon as I got to the sidewalk. I was in the all-night club district for the next several hours, drinking and carousing my way across this golden city of a hundred spires. Finally sometime around 4:00 in the morning, I started heading back to the subway, knowing that the trains wouldn’t start running for a couple more hours. That’s when I caught sight of Lukáš standing above me on a pedestrian bridge. Because our eyes met, he started to follow me. Down the hill and over to the east side of the train station commonly known as a park where both straights and gays cruise. When I walked through, I saw one heterosexual couple fucking next to a tree. He kept following me. When I finally entered the station to try to catch a little shut-eye before a train could return me to the dorms on the outskirts of town, he walked up to me and said something in Czech. I responded in Czech that I didn’t speak Czech, that I was an American. Then I switched to Polish, knowing that my Polish was considerably more fluent than my self-taught Czech. He couldn’t follow much of what I said, but somewhere during the halting conversation we figured out that we knew about the same amount of Ukrainian, so that became our lingua franca of the early morning. We shared a bag of chips and a Coca Cola. He gave me a tiny photograph of himself with bleached hair. Eventually I started hearing the trains rumble beneath the dingy Art Nouveau ticket hall. We shook hands—we hugged—goodbye. Things more bizarre than an American and Czech stranger having a conversation in Ukrainian have happened in Prague. I’m almost certain of it.