Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

European Diary: Café Claude Bernard, rue Claude Bernard; 11:50 a.m., Tuesday; June 22, 2004; Paris, France

In Europe, European Diary on December 8, 2004 at 6:00 pm

Waiting for our wash. As we left, a lovely specimen of Parisian womanhood was kneeling on the floor of the laundromat sniffing pants. Vive le France.

Last night S. and I walked around the Latin Quarter and St.-Germain des Pres with D., my photographer friend from Boston, during the annual Night of Music. At the end I added a Sancerre to my eau de vie and was exhausted and crazy and overwhelmed. D. was a crazy as he was in Boston, veering around the half-closed streets like a psychotic Shriner. Paris looks exactly like you think it would, with its cream-coloured apartment blocks with their dormered, blue-grey slate rooves. Everything is Hunchback of Notre Dame or fin de siécle or Picasso and Modigliani.

European Diary: Le Mauzac, rue de l’Abbé de l’Epée; 9:00 p.m., Monday; June 21, 2004; Paris, France

In Europe, European Diary on December 8, 2004 at 5:59 pm

Today we arrived in Paris on the train from Köln, relieved to be out of Germany. The taste of blood in the air is much lighter here. We abandoned our theoretically three star moth-eaten hotel on the rue de Rivoli for the Hotel Relais St.-Jacques in the 5th (Latin Quarter).

We ate a salad and ham and cheese tartin at the corner of St.-Jacques and Abbé, then showered and unpacked in our old-fashioned floral room. After we ate, as S. was buying salami for later at an Italian traiteur, I watched across St.-Jacques as the 60 or so kids from the deaf school signed to one another around a drum circle. A moment for the ascendancy of the poetic morpheme.

***

The waitress here at Le Mauzac just asked me if it was a roman I was writing. I babbled that it was only a journal, but had the presence of mind to quickly add that it also contained several poems I was working on. She seemed delighted and told the waiter that I was a poet, though in English, of course. I’m already packing boxes for the move. In my mind.

European Diary: Room 425, NH Hotel; 7:12 p.m., Sunday; June 20, 2004; Köln, Germany

In Europe, European Diary on December 8, 2004 at 2:00 am

We stalked up and down Frankfurt’s Kaiserstraße (home of Dr. This-and-That’s Sex Shoppes) to Die Zeil, great shopping streets, pregnant with junkies, hookers, screeching loonies and burghers.

This area of town – and northern Europe in general – has had an explosion of immigration over the last 20 years. The U.S. has had years of experience assimilating waves of immigrants. The last major immigrant group in Europe, the Jews, the Germans and their enthusiastic collaborators tried to kill. Most of these immigrants are Arabs and Muslim Africans, although the Turks have been in Germany for 20 or 30 years. This reaction against intolerance that allowed the Holocaust has driven many of these countries, including Holland and Germany, not just to allow people in, but to subsidize their dwellings, give them money and tend to all their physical needs. But because they don’t have to work, and in many cases due to language and cultural barriers, are not given jobs when they are allowed, they wind up isolated.

In Paris, the outskirts are ringed with Stalinesque apartment blocks filled with unemployed Muslims who have no stake in society. In Germany, they’ve arrested dozens of Al Qaeda operatives, in Holland imams, resident in that country due to its liberal policies, spend their time telling their followers that very society is doomed and it’s up to them to hasten its downfall – to keep having children so that they will overwhelm the Europeans with their negative birth rates, and that gay Dutch should be killed. Its is a kind of suicide to allow these people in, provide them with all their physical needs, and isolate them culturally.

In America, work is the great integrator. If you don’t speak the language, or figure out how to communicate in spite of it, you don’t work; if you don’t learn the customs, you don’t work; if you don’t become a member of the society you live in, you don’t work. And, without a European-style cradle-to grave safety net, you don’t work, you don’t eat, rent a place to live, stay in the country. (This idea has its own set of problems and qualification, specifically as regards migrant workers.)

How Europe will deal with this is beyond me to say – how to keep your tolerance and not close your gates and minds but not commit suicide? Maybe it’s a question for the U.S. as well. There are always people out there glad for any excuse for “order.”

Yesterday we rented a car at the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, drove to Gelnhausen, east in Hesse, the province where Frankfurt lies. It was the picture-perfect Germany of tourist brochures and postcards – 600-year old, half-timbered houses on cobbled streets, old churches, the Rathaus and synagogue, surrounded by rolling, hedged green farmland and groves of trees. Barbarossa reigned from there for a time and Napoleon had a major battle there.

Roth, my mother’s family’s town of origin, was a couple kilometers up the road, now officially part of the municipality of Gelnhausen, perched in small cobbled streets on the hillside. You could see how they must have left their houses every morning, walked down onto the valley floor to their fields and walked home again in the evening. It was Saturday, so I couldn’t look in the archives or anything, but it was good to see. S. loved it.

After that we drove east to Erfurt and Weimar, where we kept passing clustered, red-roofed towns with a single 14th century church bell tower or spire, and castles, including, at one point, three castles on three nearby hills, guarding the entrance to a valley, called, “Drei Gleichen.”

But Weimar’s antique polish, and all the rest of it, was violently cancelled out by our visit to Buchenwald, which S.’s father endured. It was immense and a cold rain was falling over the vacant grounds, muddy with tan mud. It was the kind of weather that gave us a more physical picture of that time. I can imagine many things, but the scale and depth of the cruelty and spiritual sickness, cowardice and sadism that the Germans allowed to penetrate their society, and subsequently exported to (or elicited from) every other country they occupied, is beyond my formidable imaginative capacity to understand. Germany is rotten with its own turned blood. You can smell it where ever you stand.

At one point, right outside the fence, there was a very smartly placed plaque that indicated a hunting area – a miles-long, ten-pointed star cut through the brush so that horse could be ridden. The hunting land belonged to the local duke in the 18th century, whose widow, the Duchess Anna Amalia, had a salon of Europe-wide repute, and whose attendees included the poet and playwright Goethe, who, the plaque said, a played a role in the debut of his play Iphigenia in Tauris in the Duchess’s palace, which stood 1,300 meters from the edge of Buchenwald. I said to S. – in 200 years, they went from Goethe to Buchenwald. Just Imagine that.

***

We arrived extremely late at nigh to the NH Köln Hotel on the Holzmarkt, the old lumber market on the Rhine. It is a fantastic hotel. Our room looks out on the river and over to Deutz. The Dom is nearby. Today we visited the “chocolate museum” across the canal. It is on a spit of land that separates the canal from the Rhine. We also returned the rental car. Driving around Köln was a bit of a trial. Driving in the middle of the night from Weimar was more of one, however. Especially when the main road – in the middle of the woods – is closed and you get to take a near-fatal split-second detour. Whee.

Buchenwald was hard on S. but she was able to order research on her father through the archives there.

European Diary: Room 401, Manhattan Hotel; 6:30 p.m., Friday; June 18, 2004; Frankfurt, Germany

In Europe, European Diary on December 8, 2004 at 1:59 am

Yesterday we arrived in Frankfurt after a four-and-a-half hour, airless bullet-train ride through a Shire-like countryside, a great deal of which used to be the D.D.R. The Manhattan Hotel is on the Düsseldorferstr. 10, in, according to a cab driver, “the worst part of town.” It is a filthy street, directly across the street from the Hbf. We ate some Thai food featuring uncooked armadillo medallions. The hotel is book-ended between aromatic Arabic spice shops and groceries.

European Diary: Room 6033, Swissotel; 8:30 p.m., Wednesday; June 16, 2004; Berlin, Germany

In Europe, European Diary on December 6, 2004 at 10:41 pm

Today S. and I went to a traditional Germany pub for lunch. Far from creepy, it was charming – dark, with old photos and a menu heavy on starch and meat. The food – Bratwurst, Kartoffeln, Sauerkraut – was excellent. S. got to taste a Berliner Weiße mit Schuß (rot) and a Glühwein (ick). It was empty as it was 10:30 in the morning. We ate a very leisurely meal, an hour and a half, then chatted with the waitress. She said something very interesting. “I would move any place else if I could. Germany is dead.”

Tonight we were going to go to Bar als Venunft (So-Called Bar) to see a Kabarett. But Kabarett is not what it was in the movies. It is either political sketch comedy performed in a theater, which I’ve read has grown stale after an energetic life in divided Berlin,; or it is a chanson night in places like this. S. was sidelined all day. Her cold has returned. And once we got to the place, which was like a carnival with mirrored tents, she didn’t have the heart for it. At the driver’s suggesti9n, we went to Paris Bar and had two house specialty drinks, the Barman’s Special, which shellacked me, and a lavender-flavoured Ciel de Paris and some risotto.

My only regret about Berlin is that we didn’t walk around that much (exploded feet) and that we didn’t spend much time in the eastern area. Reunification has resulted in a larger city, connected to the rest of the country. It’s lost its special nature. But a lot of other people gained that fearful gift of freedom. I read that European unemployment is thrice that of the U.S.

The European Parliament elections, which took place two days ago, were characterized by two things: widespread apathy from the voting public and anger on the part of the 30% that did vote. Protest parties, in most countries the conservative opposition, or specialty parties like the U.K. Independence Party, won overwhelmingly. There was a lot of concern over the overwhelming cost of the E.U. and the underwhelming amount of good people feel it’s done in their lives. There have also been scandals regarding the amount of pay and perks E.U. ministers get, including the ability to claim an almost tenfold return on air travel expenditure.

The bureaucratic jargon, inefficiency and petty complications of the E.U. rules are also cited as major objections. As an example, all E.U. legislation and other major documents must be translated into each of the 20 languages of the 25 member states. As of this summer, with the addition of eight new members, this has created a backlog that E.U. officials estimate at 60,000 pages, growing to 300,000 within three years. A suggestion was made that English, the de facto lingua franca, be made the European Union’s sole official language. But that was met by a great protest. It was asserted by the majority of E.U. representatives that the implication that the European Union could get by without the minutes from the water rights committee’s May minutes being translated into Flemish was the kind of arrogant imperial American cultural colonization that makes any of the European-prosecuted genocides seem like fender-benders in comparison.

I blame myself.

European Diary: Palermo Bar, Swissotel; 5:45 p.m., Tuesday; June 15, 2004; Berlin, Germany

In Europe, European Diary on December 4, 2004 at 5:12 pm

Last night we went to see a production of “Die Kleinburgerhochzeit,” an early work by Brecht. We saw it at Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, the theatre Brecht founded in 1949 in East Berlin. (Chased out of the U.S. by McCarthy’s goonery and disgusted by the reintegration of nazis into the post-war West German government, he accepted the invitation of the East Germans to stage a play there and wound up staying.)

The packett of red velvet seats was surmounted by two balconies, whose boxes were divided by columns or pilasters. The atmosphere was a little claustrophobic, hot and close and the fraying-fiction-of-the-bourgeoisie there was hilariously (and disgustingly) underscored by the regular exhalations of rotten farts and/or abscessed teeth of the unwashed intellectual who was sitting before us. It was among the worst things I’ve ever smelled, making the noise, things breaking and narrow mess of the stage treatment (all action took place in a cramped box with a long table inside, suspended from the ceiling by wires) all the more horrifying. We thought we were going to have to bolt. But Berlin intellectuals are notoriously easy to spook, so we held it together until the end.

Signs we saw on the streets while riding back from the theatre in a taxi:

Big Sexyland

Dolly Busters

“Dolly Busters”? This was a chain of stores. I can only imagine that their products were of a sexual nature, but the implied busting of dollies made me want to scrub for hours with a harsh lye soap while convulsively weeping.

Today we walked over to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens – Shopping House of the West) which, like Harrod’s, was immense and over-priced. The food floor, with different “bars” for everything from oysters to chocolate to sausages, was its saving grace. The difference in cultural background and sensitivity between S. and myself was underscored by my enthusiastic snuffling down of several Thüringer Würste to S.’s wrinkle-nosed distress.

S. later went off to Forum Steglitz for more shopping while I went to the Museumsinsel to visit the Pergamonmuseum. Extraordinary reconstruction of the Greek altar building / temple at Pergamon. Many stelae with cuneiform in the Near Eastern Museum. Gestural. Reconstructed Ishtar Gate from the north wall of Babylon was the highlight. It was like seeing something from a dream made suddenly and impossibly manifest. It was such a surprise that the thing actually existed in real life and not just in my imagination. Like the Pergamon altar it was enormous. And unlike the Greek and Roman architecture we are used to – what paint there was long ago stripped away by time and the elements – the Ishtar Gate was made of gleaming, colored bricks in deep blue, red, yellow; all shining from the firing and carved, over great surfaces, with lions and other figures.

Berlin is enormous. 40 miles across? Perhaps not, but without the walls, the city has been flung open and all the imperial buildings in the east give it a monumentality that the old West Berlin lacked. I could live here. So much theatre, cinema and hundreds of Buchhandlungen, museums, galleries, etc. The New York of the E.U.

I rather miss the early 80s, occupied-house, anarchist-punk scene. But, like everywhere else, Berlin – and I – have changed. I want to destroy passers by. I don’t want to work for tort reform.

Andre Gide’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” comes to mind.

European Diary: Italian Restaurant, Fasanenstraße, across the street from the Käthe Kollwitz Museum; afternoon, Sunday; June 13, 2004; Berlin, Germany

In Europe, European Diary on December 3, 2004 at 5:25 pm

Night before last, C. took us to the locals’ red light district of Amsterdam. It was local in the sense that it had no TGI Friday’s Mardi Gras Restaurant or Jackfruit Jimmy’s Australian Billabong Beer Hole. And no British. The women in underwear in the red-lit windows were nerve-wracking, but otherwise unremarkable. Then we went to a tall, narrow bar with stairs like a ship, on a canal, etc., etc. He left our hotel at 3:00 a.m., and we were asleep by 3:30 and up to get the train to Berlin after packing by 7:30.

The train ride was smooth, though I was a bit nervous about getting on the right one. It’s been a long time. We had to sit next to a Reaganite – San Diegan, tan, rich, white, Republican – who had come over to Europe with his wife and his moustache to rub his turbulent Schroeder over some sweet, hot D-Day porno. Like all Reaganites, he hadn’t spent a day in the military, but praised it praised breathlessly. Neither S., whose brother was in Viet Nam, nor I (my father was career Navy and also spent in year there) were delighted to share our seats with them. Mercifully, they soon moved to unoccupied seats across the aisle. Later, I witnessed some infant Gauleiter Deutsche Bahn employee rage violently and throw shit around the bar car’s kitchen. Willkommen in Deutschland. A very creepy reintroduction to the country.

We checked into the Swissotel on the Augsburgerstraße for some much-needed luxury, or so it seemed to us – nice amenities, clean rooms, well-designed, with a good bar and restaurant. Our room looks out across the Kü’damm to the Café Kranzler.

Today we walked three blocks to the Käthe Kollwitz Museums, where S., transported, remains as I write and eat risotto. Berlin is more like home and after jet-lagged London, foreign Riga and smug Amsterdam, it’s a real relief. And I can almost speak the language.

It suddenly occurs to me that today I have had everything a man needs: love, art, food, wine, coffee and tobacco.

European Diary: TODRINK Café terrace, Arena Hotel; 9:00 p.m., Friday; June 11, 2004; Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In Europe, European Diary on December 3, 2004 at 2:46 am

Rode the Canal Bus around, a peaceful interlude between getting wretched directions from Dutch nincompoops. Went to the Anne Frank Huis, which was surprisingly moving. I had this thought:

The Germans did not kill off the Jews in the Holocaust. The Jews, as a whole, survived. The Germans killed Europe. Europe the idea, the ideal, of which America was merely an eccentric expression, died with the first Jew. And the new “Jews of Europe” that Europeans and the European press talk about? Do they mean European Gentile fetishizing of the non-religious, cultural castaways from the former Soviet Union? The return of these people to claim their religious and cultural patrimony may enrich them, and it may allow Germans, and citizens of the collaborationist countries, to feel as though history itself was not murdered, as they feared. But it was. Europe is no longer an idea. It is a memory.

***

The canals are nothing but a 100-kilometer-long trailer park.

This city is positively buttered in shit, iced like a sheet-cake with dog shit, bird shit, human shit.

S. said: cities are either dog cities or cat cities. I would add, they are either straight cities or lesbian cities. Riga is a straight cat city. Amsterdam is a lesbian dog city. San Francisco is a deranged gerbil in an underwear drawer.

Das Methusalem-Komplott

In Europe on December 3, 2004 at 1:47 am

In the November/December 2004 issue of Foreign Policy, Ulrich Beck reviews Frank Schirrmacher’s “Das Methusalem-Komplott” (The Methuselah Conspiracy). He begins his review saying, “Germany, it must be said, no longer exists. Nor does France, Spain, Italy, or even Britain. After 50 years of Europeanization, of interfusing and intertwining, no corner of Europe is untouched by Brussels, and no return to the nation-state is possible.”

If this is true, it may point a way out of 1,500 years of ethnic-national violence in Europe. I do not know. It may not. But even so, when I read it, it made me a bit sad. What made Europe so exciting to me as an American was its compartmentalization. Our trip this summer introduced us to a changed Europe. Seeing it again was like meeting an old girlfriend. “Man,” you think later, “Time was not kind to her” and you look over at your wife with relief.

That was my gut-reaction. I hope that this “new Europe” is an opportunity, although I found it hard to see Europe as a union.

European Diary: TODRINK Café, Arena Hotel; Friday, June 11, 2003; Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In Europe, European Diary, Poetry on December 2, 2004 at 6:43 pm

Amsterdam is Homeland of the Smug. Here people believe that by replacing expensive rococo furnishings with expensive sleek furnishings, they have overcome materialism. There is a sense, from the open drapes of the canal-front houses to the politics, of a people bound and determined to show off their modesty and abnegation. Instead of saying, “I have a Humvee and you just have a shitty Land Rover” they seem to be saying, “I have a refined spirit and you just have a shitty bourgeois mindset.”

Despite the ready availability of drugs and prostitution, it is one of the blandest places I’ve ever visited. Even the language, when they’re not speaking English, seems like a dull German. The canals are nice to sit by, but how much stylish sitting can you do? One good thing is the food. It’s not great, but the vegetables are fresh and the coffee is decent. And, most importantly, it is definitely The West, a fact that is hard to overplay after nine days in Latvia.

The varied ethnic mix is due to Holland’s former colonial properties and its wide-open immigration policy. This policy has been criticized by some as having gotten calcified into a kind of rigid and institutional indulgence. Holland imports imams, for instance, due to its long-term cultural value of tolerance, who say thanks by advocating the murder of homosexuals and the over-throw of the West. A hard balance to keep and the danger is of laying down and sacrificing yourself for your uncritically extended values, or clamping down in such a way as to destroy the legitimate values you built your society on. (Sounds familiar for some reason…)

Yesterday C. took S. and I walking back and forth within the Center, the area of the “four canals.” It was a good thing to do, and Sh., C.’s wife, joined us for lunch. I was somewhat distracted however, as I had injured myself the day before. We had gone down to a canal-side café, the Ysbreker, to eat. We had Caprese salads and tapenade. We couldn’t eat it all, so asked fi there was something we could carry the leftovers away in. instead of saying “no,” one of the waitresses said, “I’ll check.” I’ll check? That was odd, I thought. It didn’t seem like something one would need to check. “A doggie bag,” said another, not asking. “I lived in the U.S. We don’t do that here. It’s not very Dutch,” she said admonishingly. Seemed wasteful to me, but then I’m pretty materialistic.

A few minutes later, the first waitress returned and held out a mozzarella tub as big as a garbage can. “It’s washed.” We shame-facedly scraped eight pounds of mozzarella and tomato into the tub and snapped down the lid. We thereupon discovered with were 20 cents short on the bill and the restaurant did not take credit cards. With a showy sigh, the majordomo proclaimed that he would cover it. It was understood that his mother would have to eat cat food again that night due to his extraordinary selflessness. Naturally I insisted to S. that the first thing we do is find a bank machine and insert 20 cents into the dirty baby’s coin mechanism.

So we headed off to find a flamboyantly thrifty, ostentatiously modest Dutch ATM. We crossed under an elevated pedestrian walkway that turned out to be a major bicycle freeway. (Everyone travels by bicycle in Holland!) When we came to the Sarphatistraat I saw a delivery van down the street, so I jogged across, catching both feet, barely off the ground, on the raised center where the tram tracks ran. I rocketed to the ground, barely getting my hands in front of my face before I struck the pebbled surface, tearing great chunks of Curt-meat out of my hands in a reverberation uproariously described by S. as the fish-wiggle. “You looked like that statue of Saddam Hussein coming down,” she said.

I never fall down. So to fall so hard left me literally stunned. I didn’t know what had happened for a moment and for another moment couldn’t get upright again. Mercifully, the delivery van opted out of running my carcass over. After S. visited the ATM we made our way back along Professor Tulpplein to the Hotel Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam, where visitors like Madonna and even the Dutch royal family occasionally stay. When S. asked the doorman for a band-aid, he hustled me, blood rolling down my forearms, through the ornate lobby and back into the back employee room where, after distressing one overdressed guest in the bathroom with my howls as I washed the gravel out of my wounds, no less than five (all immigrant) hotel workers proceeded to bandage my wee mitts, for which I will always be grateful. I can recommend the Hotel Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam without reservation on the strength of its staff.

Wounds dressed and face drained of blood we made it back to the Ysbreker and paid the head turd.

***

I’m looking forward to Berlin. I must make train reservations and we may go on a walking tour of the Red Light District. We are tourists after all.

The negatives of this place are humorous and I think I deal with them alright. I just don’t find myself very attracted to the place. I have found myself a bit alienated on this trip, overwhelmed by the Tower of Babel.

***

Everybody floats into the air

(That is the reality of things),

A common man may rise up off a chair

Or from a chair of state if he’s a king.

Either way, they’re equal when they fly.

The earth has grown disinterested in them

And let them go, to drift across the sky,

Content to let them turn in the currents of heaven.

Or perhaps it’s that their spirits grow corrosive

To the bonds that bind them to the earth

Until, dissolved, they’re launched explosively

Back into their medium of birth.

But whether home or Heaven, this is clear:

Everybody floats into the air.