Friday, September 30, 2005

Our Lord In The Attic

Reading over the last few entries, I realized this journal was a little too much "wandering around and spilling things on himself" and not enough Europe. I´m leaving for Madrid tomorrow, I haven´t even discussed being in Paris, let alone giving an accurate idea of my time in Barcelona, and all you know of Amsterdam is there´s too much dope and not enough Vemeer´s. At this rate of backlog, I´ll be writing about my time in Capri sometime next January.

Something else I discovered upon re-reading: lots of typos, lots of bad grammar. However, I ask your indulgence in that I write these entries in internet cafes with the subsidized clock ticking. I don´t always have time to go back and make corrections. Plus we all know what marijuana does to the brain.

At the risk of sending me back to Amsterdam, Mrs. Collins has asked for more info about the church in the Attic.

Amstelkring Museum
In the 17th century, Catholicism was officially outlawed in Protestant Holland. Jan Hartman, a weathly merchant, bought three adjoining houses, knocked down the walls on the top floors, and converted the space into a secret Catholic church.

In the late 19th century, the space was converted into Amstelkring ("Our Lord in The Attic")Museum, one of the only secret churches still surviving in its original condition.

When I went, I wasn´t expecting much. You walk through the lower levels, and it seems like a typical, tasteful Dutch home. Clever use of space, such as a bed built into a wall (think Scrooge´s bed in a wall, not a Murphy bed). You walk up the stairs to the attic, and I was expecting maybe a long room with an altar at the end. Nope, it´s a fully functioning church, the size of a small sized parrish church, in someone´s attic. The space was three levels: the main level containing pews, and altar, plus two levels of seats and a good-sized organ above.

I guess fellow Catholics "in the know" would come to Hartman´s house Sunday morning, climb up to the attic and find a seat. For a "secret" church, it´s pretty ostentatious. Nothing was spared as far as decorating the altar, the walls or the ceiling. Appearantly, Protestant authorities were fairly tolerant. As long as it wasn´t obviously a Catholic church from the outside, you could do want you want on the inside.

There was also a little confessional built out of a small cupboard, as well as specially built closets for storing items that would normally go in the sachristy.

Expectations aside, it is a neat experience to walk up the stairs of a "normal" house and suddenly be in a small-sized church. It reminds me of when my sister Erin got a cardboard grocery store for Christmas one year. You´d walk into Erin´s room, and there would be a fully functional convenience store/bodega inside. If I remember correctly, she made a lot of money there.

The elusive "I Think I Crapped My Pants" posting

I´m having some trouble with the online journal today. Not sure why. Below is another version of something I posted this morning which seems to has disappeared. Oy. I´m not even sure it´s worth it, but I just want to wrap up the whole "high in Amsterdam" story, which has gone on longer than anyone could possibly deem necessary. The post was orginally entitled "Itchycoo Park in Amsterdam," for all you British Invasion/psychedlia fans.

Eventually I´ll get around to writing about hanging out in Paris with Monsoir and Madam Droithomme.

When we last left off, I had gotten back to my room at the hostel. I locked the bag with my camera and videocamera in my locker, used the bathroom, and decided, safe as the hostel felt, it was not where I wanted to hang out. It was a little too sterile. I´ve never understood people who hang out at hostels. No matter what time of the day you stop by, the same people seem to be there, hanging out in either the common room or the bar or cafe. If they´ve traveled to visit a city, why spend all their time in one spot? It´s like somone who spends their entir vacation in their hotel. And yes, I am re-typing this while sitting in my hostel in Barcelona. But I don´t think that´s relevent, thank you.

There was a wonderful park next to the hostel, large enough to get pleasantly lost in, and I decided that that´s the best place to be in my altered state. I headed there, aware of one small problem. Even though I had used the bathroom, I couldn´t shake the feeling that I had, to put this delicately, crapped my pants. Curse you, pot brownie, with your delicious chocolatey mind-altering goodness. No amount of positive thinking could change this into a good experience. Now, I knew I didn´t, yet as I got to the park, I couldn´t shake the feeling that I had. I would try to subtly check, by pulling the back of my underwear up, to see if I felt anything in there. I also walked in front of other people, to see if anyone would pull me aside and point out that I had a stain on the back of my trousers. Before sitting down on the grass, I thought "Okay. Now I´ll know for sure." After I sat down and shifted my butt around, I thought "Still can´t tell one way or another. Oh well."

But it was while sitting in the park that I had a moment where I suddenly felt different, a change coming as sudden and different as flicking a switch and light entering a dark room. A voice inside my head said "all the fear has left me now" and indeed it had. All the worrying I had been carrying that afternoon, and some before I had flown to Europe, was gone. I felt only calm and contentment. To test this, I even tried to make myself worry about something, but couldn´t.

I looked at my watch for the first time in a while, my obsession with time have fled. I ate the brownied at 4:00, the effects kicked in at 5:00, and now it was 7:30 and I felt good. I sat in the park awhile, pleasanly misunderstanding things (are those guys practising dance moves? Good God, why?). After sunset, I went for a walk to enjoy the canals of Amsterdam at night. It is such a beautiful city. Do the residents grow bored or jaded with its wonders? How could they when turning any corner reveals something hypnotizing in its beauty?

The next day, I returned to th Red Light District. There were two reasons: one, I never did make it to the house with a church in its attic, and two, to see that section of the city with clear eyes. I was vindicated. The Red Light district is like a maze, and the prostitutes aren´t too alluring. However, one my second trip, I did get to see two prostitutes killing time by talking to two guys who were fixing the cobblestone road: just a bunch of workers, taking time off from their physically demanding labor.

Barcelona, a city given to curses

I´m not talking about curses as in the old gypsy "may your chickens prove eggless and your eyes turn round in your head" or in the more crass "Sucks. Did you hear what I said, Mommy? I said ´sucks´" (which my nephew Eric´s first attempt at cursing, when he was still a toddler). No, I´m talking about a city in which your response to most everything is "Goddamn!" or "Sacre Merde!"

The second curse is in response to the fact that I am rather shamed by the fact that my Spanish is so bad. When you travel and see how almost everyone in Europe is at least bi-lingual, you get an idea why they get frustrated with Americanos who can only speak English, some of whom can barely manage that, and expect everyone else to converse on their home court (to mangle a metaphor). I´m certainly no better. I felt like I had a good grasp on French while in Paris. I could conduct most basic transactions (buying food, pleasant basic conversation, getting instructions) without resorting to English at all. But here in Spain, I´m frustrated by the fact that after saying "hello," I have to switch to "Si habla Ingles?" The fact that everyone seems to think I´m British doesn´t help matters.

Back to basics: Barcelona is a city that inspires wonder and the necessary curses to express that wonder. Two nights ago, I had an amazing dinner of tapas at a restaurant. It was like hors d'oeuvres at a reception, but no reception I´ve been to ever had food like this (my apologies to everyone who´s wedding I have ever been to are a given). They would bring out plates of tapas (little finger foods), you would pick what you wanted, and were charged by the number of toothpicks on your plate at the end of the night. Everything was amazing. I have no idea what anything was. There was a cheese thing, a salmon piece, some tuna mix, a decorative olice and asparagas in oil concoction that looked like an octopus. I filled my belly on tapas and four hearty glasses of red wine for about $20. Sacred merde, indeed.

Best of all, I shared a spot at the bar with a couple from America honeymooning in Barcelona. They were open and friendly like Americans at their best, and I was delighted to hang out with them. Not only were they Americans, but they were Baltimorons, too. I enjoyed talking to them for most of the night, thrilled not to be having any language difficulties, that I later tried to figure out what makes Americans so friendly overseas. In my experience, they really are the third friendliest people you could meet. First being Australians, second being the Irish.

Today at lunch, however, I thought I might have to alter my rankins. I may need to make room for the Germans in there somewhere (happy, Stacey and Karl?) There´s a produce market here in Barcelona, and the food stands are highly recommended. At one, I found an empty seat. I asked, in broken Spanish, if the seat was empty. I thought the man sitting next to the seat was severly sunburned, and based on how he moved, perhaps a little retarded. No, it soon became evident, he was shit-faced drunk (it was about 12:30 in the afternoon). A nice lady explained in broken English that the seat was available, so I took it. Someone three seats away was eating a seafood platter that looked good, so I pointed that out to the counterman and ordered it. The nice lady was there with her husband, and as we began to talk, I got their story. On retiring, they had moved from Germany to the small island of Majorica, off the Spanish coast. Our conversation was a complete tower of babel. They spoke German, Spanish and a little English. I spoke English, some French, and with the aid of my travel book, basic Spanish. However, they were so sweet and kind, they invited me to stay at their place in Majorica if I decide to go to the island. To hear them sing its praises, it made me want to completely alter my travel schedule and check out the island. They gave me their phone numbers in case I want to go...

Which I am thinking seriously about doing. The question now becomes, what do I sacrifice in order to go?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"He´s from Barcelona, you know"

Arrived in Barcelona this morning, after taking the overnight train from Paris. I had reserved a bed in a sleeper compartment. The compartment was so small, I couldn´t see how four beds were going to fold down from the wall, but they did.

I´m not too tired, which is surprising considering how little sleep I got last night. I thought I would zonk out, but I couldn´t seem to relax, and any little disturbance (a sudden lurch of the train, the snoring or past-due-for-a-shower scent of one of my compartment mates) would immediately jolt me awake. It was surprising how dark it was in the car at night. I mean complete absence of light, no difference between eyes closed or open, staring into the void darkness. Still I slept fitfully at best.

After arriving, I sat for a while by the harbor, looking at the Montjuic ("Mount of the Jews." Hey, I didn´t name it). It was like a warm spring day, the slight humidity counteracted by a light breeze coming off the harbor. When the sun went behind a cloud, everything would be suffused with the most amazing soft blue light. Sailboats created rolling waves of an incredible deep rich blue, within which you could see the fish swimming. Until you got out your camera, of course. Then they´d have disappeared.

This is in contrast to the grey, rainy, cool weather of Paris yesterday. The two make a perfect example of pathetic fallacy. The first indication that I was no longer in Paris came this morning. I bought a bottle of water from a machine, mostly to break the €2 coin into something smaller. The water was €1.40, and I was expecting to get a small, fist-sized bottle for that price. Instead, what came lumbering out of the machine was a giant 1.5 litre bottle that I couldn´t fit in either of my bags. I had to cradle it in my arm like a baby.

Another difference: I had breakfast this morning in a touristy cafe on the Rambla. (The Rambla is Barcelona´s main public square, except that it´s a rectangle, and you walk along it like a promenade rather than around it like a circle.) Breakfast was a little expensive (€10 - about $12), but I was hungry and it was in a prime location for people-watching. Unfortunately, all I had on me was a €50 note. "Lo siento," I said "it´s all I have." "No problem," replied the waiter, and he was genuinely friendly while making change.

Compare this to the customary eye-rolling you get in Paris if you offer a large bill. It doesn´t even have to be a large bill. When I bought a beer at the Eiffel Tower, the cost was €3.90. I handed the kid working the cash register €5, and he asked if I had the .90 change. Without even thinking (having just climbed the 600+ steps to reach the second level, I was a little out of it), I pulled the coins out of my pocket, and when I took too long counting 90 cents, he wearily said ¨Hold out your hand, let me see." He then picked the right change out of the jumble. You have to love Parisians.

Still, I don´t want to denigrate Paris. It truly is a magical city. How magical? Let me put it this way: while there, I ate croissants and bread and cheese and fries and pain au chocolat, and I lost weight.

I will write more about my time in Paris soon. This online journal was meant to be chronological, not alphabetical. Hope the jumping back and forth in time doesn´t prove too confusing.

Arrived in Barcelona

Will post more later...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Amsterdam part two

When we left off, I had just found my way out of the Red Light District after wandering around for what seemed like hours, but was in fact only a few minutes, my perception of time having been altered by a pot brownie.

I was heading back to the hostel, where I felt I would be safe, despite the pun of its name. In my present state, if something happened, I may not be able to handle it. Like what? Oh, like someone talking to me and expecting me to respond.

I remember coming to a busy intersection. People, cars, trams and bikes (God, the Dutch love their bikes!) were all moving at cross purposes. I thought "Oh...I don't think I can deal with this." With the hostel as my ultimate goal, I decided to take a little break and sit on a bench for a while.

It was while on the bench that I thought I could understand and interperate babytalk. John Hanlon, The Infant Whisperer. There was a father sitting with his fussy toddler on the bench next to mine, and in the midst of her crying, I suddenly realized I understood what she was saying. Even at the time I was lucid enough to know that not only can I not understand babytalk, but this child was probably crying in Dutch. But still, I heard her cry "Independent!" and looked over to see that she was trying to squirm her way out of her father's hold.

While I was enjoying my newfound ability, I was worried about sitting on the bench with my bag, which contained my camera (thank you again, Fenway Partners) and my videocamera. As I mentioned before, I was not up for any human interaction, and that included being the victim of a crime. I could see someone grabbing my bag, leaving me to say "Hey" some twenty seconds later. So, I set off for the hostel again, where I would be safe.

My sense of time was still distorted. My spatial perception (as opposed to my special perception) was a little off. Basically, I was fine with anything, so long as it didn't exist in time and space. Anything that did was troubling. Tram (the public transporation system) bells sounded like funeral bells tolling and I wanted to get away from them. Not just out of the way of the tram, but move to a completely different street. It was around this time that I decided that perhaps getting high while alone in a foreign city was not the brightest idea.

However, I decided to stop being so negative. It wasn't a good mindset, it wasn't going to help, and it's not why I decided to travel. So, anytime I had a negative thought, I would just turn it around to its positive opposite. Thus, I decided that getting high in a foreign city was a great idea. I thought this over several times, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Incredibly, I found my way back to the hostel without any trouble. I say "incredibly" because I couldn't find the Red Light District with a map while straight, but while high, I just walked, looked at a map once, realized I had to go left at the next major street, and was home. The power of positive thinking.

To be continued...

I hope this isn't boring you all yet. I know there's nothing more boring than listening to another person's drug story. Well, experimental film is more boring...and "modern" music that's just noise...and Lutheran masses. They're more boring. But in any case, I promise to wrap all this up soon, and get onto Paris, which is a city that rules like Napoleon was still around.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


(A quick note: I thought typing this was going to be a little more difficult. You see, French keyboards are slightly different from their US counterparts. Nothing major, just enought to make things difficult. For example, "Q" and "A" have switched places, and "M" is next to "L" instead of near "N" like it was meant to be.

However, the cybercafe where I am typing this has a section of computers with American keyboards, because, you know, we're taking over everything. But this means that typing this will be much easier than I anticipated. Now on to Qmsterdqm)

Maybe getting high when you're alone in an unfamiliar and foreign city isn't the brightest idea in the world. At least that was one of the things I kept thinking when my (?) brownie experience was at its most intense.

After spending the morning at the Rijksmuseum (which, by the way, only has three paintings by Vermeer. Granted, that's over 10% of the total Vermeers, but still, you would think the Rijksmuseum would have more...) I decided to head to Amsterdam's famous Red Light District. I wanted to see the Amstelkring (a three-level Catholic Church built into the attic of a house, dating back to when being Catholic was taboo in the Netherlands) and see the prostitutes, and yes, perhaps hire a nice lady's services. That's me: the sacred and the profane. However, I couldn' not find my way to the Red Light District. I kept getting lost. I walked all the way to the train station, would turn back, try another way, but somehow kept missing it. The map I had was no use at all. That's also me: I can't get laid with both hands and a road map.

I walked past a pack of Asian businessmen and thought "I should follow them. I bet they know the way to the Red Light District." Ugly stereotyping, I know. Eventually, I found a street that had a few sex shops and some bars. I looked down to see that the bricks in the road were red and thought "Ah-ha!" It wasn't long after that that I passed the Asian businessmen again. Ugly stereotyping wins out over giving people the benefit of the doubt once again.

Speaking of expectations: I was surprised to see the Red Light District was like the "bad" section of any other town, by which I mean filled with stores, bars, hotels, etc. For some reason, I thought it would just be whores and nothing buyt whores. The first tip-off was the number of female tourists I saw. What were they doing here? Somehow I just envisioned lonely, creepy men (present company excluded) prowling the area. The other surprise was the scarcity of whores on the main streets. Where were they? I had thought I would see hundreds of display windows, like Saks at Christmas, lining the streets, an automat of flesh. Nope. Where they were, of course, was on the side streets, the little alleyways so easy to overlook. Here you didn't see too many female tourists.

Long story short: Nope, I didn't partake. There are a couple of reasons. One: there were a lot of empty windows. I was there in the late afternoon, which I suppose is the shift change. It's kind of like trying to catch a cab in New York between 5:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon. Perhaps there's a saying here: "As futile as trying to get laid in Amsterdam at 5:00."

Another reason: Every girl I saw look like...a whore. Would it have killed one of them to put on a nice Catholic schoolgirl uniform? I don't know why, but the uniformity of their look was disappointing. I thought they might be dressed different ways, according to different tastes. Maybe a nun's habit, or Xena, Warrior Princess, or perhaps the Williams Sisters, complete with tennis raquets.

But the main reason I didn't hire anyone was the "magic" brownie I had eaten an hour before was kicking in, and my God, I was messed up. I had bought a brownie, either pot or hash, the clerk wasn't too clear, at a coffeeshop while looking for the Red Light District. He asked if I wanted medium or large. I went with medium, and if that was medium, all I can say is thank God I had the sense to avoid the large.

So...I began to feel trapped in the Red Light District. Literally. The streets are narrow and the buildings on either side seem fairly tall, forming a solid wall. I began to see it as a maze from which I couldn't find my way out. Streets opened onto other streets, little sunlight filtered its way down, and everyone seemed to be wandering around, lost. I had come here looking for a church and for sex, and now I was trapped, wandering endlessly in a maze as punishment. It seemed (at the time) too perfect.

After what seemed like hours of walking, but were in fact only a few minutes (I know this because I checked my watch on average of twice a minute, astonished that time was taking so long, and then became worried that looking at my watch so often made me look suspicious), I finally found my way out of the maze. I used the sunlight I saw shining in another part of Amsterdam as my beacon. I approached a town square filled with people, surrounded by cafes. I could hear a man in the center who was louder than the rest. "He's preaching from the Bible" I thought, and the incredible thing was: he really was preaching from the Bible. When high, you make all sorts of assumptions that turn out to be completely wrong, so it's always a pleasant surprise to discover you're right...

(to be continued. Don't worry everyone - it turns out okay. I'm writing this in Paris with all my facilities, so you know the story has a happy ending. Speaking of assumptions that turn out to be right: yes, French waiters are as rude as everything you've ever heard.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Arrived In Amsterdam Safe and Sound...

But my time on this computer is running out, and I don't have any more change to buy more time.

Will post more later...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Images of New Orleans

Like everyone else, I've been thinking about New Orleans a great deal this past week. Anyone who knows me has heard me go on about how much I loved the city when I was there in January of 2004. It left its mark on me both figuratively and literally. The tattoo on my left arm (from which this website gets its name) was done at Electric Ladyland on Frenchman Street.

Below are some pictures from my trip.

Oh, The Irony Of It All...

When I ran Blogger's spellcheck on my previous post, the word "blog" came up as misspelled, and "aspire" was listed as a possible replacement for "hashbar."

Yeah, right.

Miss Tanya Wins

Something in me resisted blogs the same way I resisted cellphones. Perhaps it was the word "blog." But when Miss Tanya suggested that an online journal might be a better way to communicate with people "back home" than a series of mass emails, I had to give in and admit she was right.

So this is one more step towards my joining the virtual Perky Pat world. Since this journal will be accessible to everyone, it will resemble my pleasant public face. (Note to self: NEVER post anything while drunk.) None of the odd stuff about myself that I keep to myself will be aired: my fascination with weird coincidences, my fixation on Emma Peel, bitchy comments about friends who have annoyed me. Think of this online journal as corporate PR, as opposed to the shredded memos that reveal how corrupt a corporation truly is.

It will be a record of my upcoming trip to Europe. Coming Soon: posts about getting lost in the Metro, developing stigmata while in Vatican City, and finally figuring out the meaning of life while in a hashbar in Amsterdam.