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The Bone Church

Monday, we continued to our destination: the Sedlec ossuary, or “bone church”, near Kutna Hora, about an hour east of Prague.  It was fortunately not crowded.  This changes, minute to minute, depending on the arrival of tour buses.  The ossuary will hold about one tour bus.  We’ve seen a lot of bones this trip, from the human bone/glass construction in Venice, to the reindeer skulls in Kassel, to the Sedlec chapel here.  The memento mori are piling up.  I have been here before, with Klaus and his family in 2013, but Dave hasn’t, and one really ought to have World Heritage Site Parity in a relationship.  Except, the bone church isn’t part of the Kutna Hora UNESCO properties.  It’s too comprehensible.  Two other large churches in town are Inscribed, and documented with absolutely opaque church architecture jargon.

But what you do notice, as a lay person, is that the cathedrals of St. Barbara and especially of St. John the Baptist, are sunny and bright inside.  I think this is because they aren’t so heavily ornamented with dark and history-laden stones.

At night, we decided further to accept no small slips, and gave up going to Prague entirely.  We stayed at a charming little hotel, U Ruze, where we had had lunch.  This is how marketing should work: they neglected to charge 10 Czech kroner for the use of their bathroom, which led us to reward them by having lunch there, and as the sun grew low, we needed look no farther for a hotel.  The room was quite cute and comfortable.


Sunday, September 17, we started driving toward Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, with the intention of seeing the Bone Church, but decided to stop in Dresden to see what there was to see, and then decided to stay because there was enough of interest to warrant it.  Dresden, as you know from reading your Kurt Vonnegut, was firebombed between 13 and 15 February, 1945, in retaliation for the German bombing of Coventry on 14 November, 1940.  That was in response to the RAF having bombed Munich the previous Friday, 8 November, while Hitler was celebrating the 17th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch.  So it goes.

Officially, the RAF was supporting the Russian advance toward Berlin by making it difficult for war workers to get to work which was of increasing effectiveness due to incendiary devices and the failure of WiFi to have been invented until half a century later, so they couldn’t work from home.  The old town was mostly destroyed.  When you look at pictures of bombed out cities, there always seem to be facades left standing.  I don’t understand how the outsides of buildings can stand up when the insides have ceased to exist.  I suppose some 9-11 conspirator can explain to me how the photos have all been faked.

After the raids, the medieval center of Dresden was mostly rubble.  The Russians took away the factories on the outskirts of town as war compensation.  I’m not sure what happened between 1945 and 1990, but the piles of rubble were saved and reassembled after reunification so that now Dresden’s old town is a mix of rebuilt medieval churches and palaces, buildings constructed more or less in the style of those palaces, a few communist block buildings, complete with hortatory murals, and buildings like the Ibis budget hotel where we got a room for the night, which look the same as they would in Pasadena or Shanghai.

A lady at the Kreuzchurch was handing out free tickets to a concert at 6 PM that night, in favor of Peace.  We agreed to go to it.  I don’t understand many German words, but I will take their word for it, that they are in favor of Peace.  For some reason, they feel that mutual respect for the world’s religions will favor that cause, which I would debate, and further that this respect is best indicated by singing each other’s music.  And a lot of talking — I was hoping for more music and less talking.  The music was mostly played by the small town orchestra (well, Dresden has half a million) who were quite comfortable playing Mozart and did it well, but “Go Down Moses” sung by an Aryan church choir was of a type with the Seder ceremony in “Sleeper”.  They found a Jew to sing a Jewish song, too, and some Arabians.  All very Museum Of An Extinct Race.

Afterwards we went out and had horse roulade and beer.

A Wedding in Berlin

I suppose it is done, in 2017, to review the parties of your friends, or indeed your friends themselves, as if they were public places on TripAdvisor.  I personally don’t even “like” Facebook things, so I sure am not going to give any hints of what you missed by not attending Thomas and Bibo’s wedding party.  They had previously got married in Denmark, which apparently is the Nevada of the European Union: Denmark doesn’t require waiting periods as Germany does.  What’s that for?  Cooling off, like buying a ticket on Expedia, or a house or a car?  Getting CE approval — did you know that the C E symbol on things like airplanes and beer steins doesn’t stand for anything?  It’s just a logo.

Anyway, I do want to assure Thomas and Bibo that I never say anything at parties, not even my own (especially my own).  It’s why I never hire a caterer, I want there to be something to do that doesn’t involve being around a whole bunch of people, which upsets me deeply.  Therefore you don’t need to wonder if I am having a good time.

Dave isn’t like this, or maybe he’s less like it than I am.  Dave was talking more.

Perhaps with subtitles it would have been easier,  but no, then there would be less excuse not to talk.  Robert Gibbs told me that extroverts gain energy from people.  I must be the one they take it away from.  I also go to sleep early, before they pull away the table for dancing.  There were a lot of interesting people there, largely from the art community, but from everywhere else, too.  A fellow who had just taken his kids to Ethiopia.  An American lady who advises artists on their careers.  A lady from near Hamburg who plays in a punk band, and whose art is currently getting people to create art with each other.

The cake was served before dinner.  That was interesting.  Afterwards came salads and soups, and then beef and smoked salmon, just out of the smoker which was smoldering in the driveway.  There was a box that brought beer to the correct temperature, as it flowed out of the keg.

In the morning we stopped by but everyone was gone but a couple of folks who had just awakened.  It wasn’t that bad a mess, considering 200 people had been there drinking and eating.  Long life to you until then, as W.S. Gilbert said.  We left a note in the guestbook.


We took a long train ride on Sunday, September 10, from Venice to Kassel.  There was a fast connection in Verona, a trip through the Alps that was beautiful except when we were in a tunnel: the preposition “through” is carefully chosen; and a more leisurely connection in Munich, where we had enough time to buy a snack and be yelled at by the proprietor of the closest stand in the food court at München Hbf. for sitting in his chairs when our sausages were not from his stand.  Later on he decided it was OK.  We were done eating anyway and it was nearly time to board the 2020 train to Kassel.  We got into Kassel just before midnight, which was a terrific inconvenience to our Airbnb host, Niklas, who was hoping to go out that night.  Niklas later said that he was OK with not going out, that he didn’t want to anyway.  I wonder if he was being polite, or if people are secretly wishing for reasons not to go out in the noisy clubs of civilization and instead stay at home snuggling their girlfriends?  Niklas and his girlfriend were both snuggleworthy, though a bit mismatched in height.  Niklas had been an exchange student near San Antonio, Texas, not very far back in the day.  He had somehow decided that conventional American beer was the best kind.  That’s the sort of foreign influence that gives AfD such a boost.

We went right to bed.  I have given a good review on Airbnb for Niklas (although the apartment is listed in the name of Linda, a third party whom we never met) and Monday morning we bought a 72-hour two-person tram ticket for 12 euros, and two two-day Documenta tickets for 38 euros each.  And with those in hand, it was time to start walking.  We began in the old new post office, and then the North and West of the downtown area, in full-on Kim Jong Un Looking At Things mode.

The post office building set the trend for Documenta.  Very political, more exhortation than ideas and more ideas than art.  I am afraid I am much with Henry Carr on this one:

“An artist is someone who is gifted in some way that enables him to do something more or less well which can only be done badly or not at all by someone who is not thus gifted.”
(Tom Stoppard, Travesties)

The folks at Documenta are upset by modern society and I share their discomfort and I wish they were better than I am at expressing it and I wish that what they did could save one of Auden’s Jews (Auden doesn’t know this, by the way; there were quite a few of the Righteous Among Nations and they haven’t all been polled as to what motivated them to risk their lives and the lives of their families.)

It doesn’t take me very long to get tired of art-speak.  Unfortunately, the labels were in English, which meant it was hard to resist reading them.  Every time I think there will be a reasonable commentary on an art work, the word “formally” appears, like the first sponsored link in a Google search.  (And why is it that Airbnb censors the word “Google” out of reviews?  It’s weird.)  And then “dialoguing”.  And then “mediated”, and off to the races and there were many, many, many, instances here and in the Biennale where the curator did not even bother to say what the piece was MADE OUT OF, like is it oil or acrylic, or they said something stupidly useless, as when a photo of a piece in the Hirst exhibit was described as made from aluminum and Lexan because that’s what the lightbox was made out of.  I KNOW THAT, 99.

The reindeer skull curtain sticks in my mind.  Maybe it’s because what the Americans, my ancestors, did to the Indians, my ancestors, was ten times worse than what the Aryan Scandinavians are doing to the Lapland Scandinavians.  Also I can recognize a curtain of reindeer skulls without Artsplaining.

There was a pyramid of plants.  There was a dark room with a bunch of pennies and some weird sounds and various stories of colonialism.  I’m purposely not referring to any of the paper we collected, while writing this.  I want to see what stuck in my head.  People have asked what my favorite pieces were, and presumably, they will be the ones I either liked or hated.  Or were the last ones I saw.

By the time we got back to the city center, it was time for adana kebab, ezme, eggplant, and ayran, at Restaurant Diyar Ocakbasi.  Echt German food.  A very good choice.

Afterwards, we began the enormous Fridericianum which had a gong that didn’t work, and a truly epic piece which looks like styrofoam and cardboard really close up, and turns out to be made entirely from marble.  And then outside to stand in the drizzle and watch the workers dismantling the Parthenon of censored books.

The Parthenon was a joke. First off, they did not have anything currently illegal, such as porn. Nor did I see a Quran, which could have been such a Teaching Moment, owing to Heinrich Heine’s famous statement in Almansor, “wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen,” which everybody knows, but nobody recalls that the book they are talking about is the Quran.

What is most disturbing, however, is that there seemed to be only a couple of hundred titles, repeated like wallpaper up the whole structure. Solzhenitsyn. The Bible. Salman Rushdie.

Between Russia and Nazi Germany and Saudi Arabia, every book published has been banned.  They could have had any library they desired. They could have had a rainbow pillar theme in which one column was papered only with banned books whose covers were primarily green.

I think also a nod to Wikipedia and Facebook would have been in order. It’s 2017 for God’s sake.  In the original, Marta Minujín used only books which had been specifically banned by the Argentine government just ousted.  That gave focus.

Also, in the light of a marvelous piece in the Biennale in which a pile of magazines was being eroded by dripping water over the course of the months of the exhibit, it might have been nice not to wrap the books in plastic, but to let them deteriorate in the rain.  As it was, they were giving them away to the ticketholders, and you could see by the piles of the same title over and over, how few banned works were really represented.

It really reinforced my idea that child pornography is the only uncompromised political art form in production today.

Tuesday was another social day.  We have not been many days on this trip without seeing friends.  The first days we saw only strangers would have been Monday and Tuesday in Iceland; and then the day we left for Germany.  There might have been a day in Venice we didn’t see cousin Johan, but by now we must count Christina at Ca’dell’Angelo as practically a friend because we’ve stayed in her hotel (15 days) longer than we’ve ever been in most countries (26 out of 193).

On Tuesday, our friend Alex drove up to see us from his home near Frankfurt.  This was a big hole out of his work day and Dave and I are flattered beyond description that he did it.  We had not seen him for thirty years.  We met him when he and his friend Bertram were hitchhiking away from the Grand Canyon in 1984.  Now he has a family and a job.  I have said this before, that seeing very old friends after a long time, is like being introduced to a stranger by a mutual acquaintance, the mutual acquaintance being yourself, decades past.  It is a good introduction.  Alex is still fun to hang out with.  I expect that Bertram is, too.  We should look him up soon, before we are too old to talk about anything but surgery.

(Cousin Johan said that about his latest trip on the Queen Mary, that most of the people on board only wanted to drink chardonnay at ten in the morning and talk about their surgeries.  I have noticed this also, and tolerate it less well than Johan has.  I want the people on my cruise ships to talk about their lenses.)

Alex walked with us around a large batch of outdoor pieces that did not require tickets.  The two-day tickets did not have to be used on consecutive days.  There was a round tent made out of marble, in one of the parks.  Two makes a theme.  Alex had to leave before dinner.  He gave us a pair of Chicken Guards, which I misheard as Gods.  Apparently it is a Danish custom to place stones with holes in them atop chicken houses.  I forget how he came to be adopting Danish customs.

As we had had lunch with Alex at Falada, a very nice restaurant in Grimmwelt, we had only to top off with hot chocolate brewed with a dash of Havana Club 7 year rum at a place near the main square, and head back to the hotel.

Wednesday: art.  rain.  Finished with the Fridericianum, and saw Documenta Halle, Neue Galerie, and started the Palais Bellevue.  Waited in line.  At the top of a tower at the Fridericianum there was a room full of plate glass flags lying in pieces on the floor.  Only five persons at a time, please.  Got rained on.

There is a large gallery called “Documenta Halle” which had a bunch of unaccountable stuff.  A big fanboy exhibition of Ali Farka Touré artifacts.  Kind of like the Experience Music Project when it opened: here’s a bunch of stuff I collected.  Except that Paul Allen had enough money to buy himself a museumful, eventually.  A very long tapestry with wintery scenes.  Descriptions by an artist of an installation he did at the Whitney in 1975 — really, they presume on your attention span at these places.

And just when you’ve given up hope: Annie Sprinkle! in the Neue Gallerie.  And a room full of actual Nazi headshots!  This is a big deal for Germans; they don’t have Nazis in everyday life the way Americans do.  I did not know that Joseph Beuys was a Nazi, but his room was next door to the Nazi head shot room, and it was closed for safety reasons.  Fluxus kills.

Thursday: art.  rain.  Finished with Palais Bellevue — totally worth it, as the third floor, which we hadn’t seen, had the most worth-it twenty minutes of Time-Based Media ever: “The Dust Channel”, by Roee Rosen.  Vacuum cleaner love.  Refugees in the Negev.  Teletubbies.  Netanyahu. Parts of it are on YouTube.

Also, in among the posters like “Towards an International Antifascist Feminist Front” (who could disagree with that?  But it’s typescript on paper, two columns, justified, how is this what we paid for?), today I saw an Isetta in a museum.  Talk about a car ahead of its time.  Also: gouache on paper, thanks for sharing that, of naked men dancing something called “Zeimbekiko” which is said to date from Greece in the late 19th century.  Really?  They were naked?  Because Documenta spent its first months in Athens before moving to Kassel, there has been a lot of Greek stuff (most of the Fridericianum).  Maybe 400 BC they were naked.  Anyway, the dance is from Turkey.  Greeks hate when you point that out.  Turks also.

A diorama of Kassel after the bombing raids.  I don’t know if that was Documenta, though.  It might have been one of the permanent exhibitions in the venues that dedicated space to it, for the duration.

There was a room with guns pointing into it — another topic that resonates more with Germans because they don’t live surrounded by them.

And, what made an impression and not just because it was the last thing seen, some nutcase from the Netherlands has taken tens of thousands of photographs of people in the years 1992-2017 and remember 1992 we are talking about film here, photography was a big deal then, and he has picked out the best three thousand or so and classified and printed them in sets of 15 or 20 according (mostly) to what they were wearing: plaid shirts.  Hot pants.  Carrying two blue plastic bags.  Brilliant obsession.  makes me want to organize my photos.  No artist statement.  Hans Eijkelboom, hats off, 15 very similar hats on different people through the ages.  Google explains to me that there is a book.  I may have to buy it, when I am home and don’t have to carry it.

Friday: We walked up to the base of the Hercules Tower in the UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE “Bergpark”, but we didn’t go inside because you couldn’t see Hercules any better from inside than out, not even upskirt, and he’s naked anyway so why bother seeing displays of medieval armor which is what’s always inside those places anyway.  

Then a drive to Berlin which was dreadful.  The East is still underdeveloped.  27 years after reunification, there still isn’t data on major freeways, they still haven’t learned to put up detour signs, only guys who hang out at the road closures and tell you you can’t go there.  There are, however, mass-produced red X’s made of wood, which clip onto standard road signs to indicate that a particular route is no longer available.  It took us 8 hours to get from Kassel to Berlin.  Google Maps suggests, 3 hours and 45 minutes.  It is true that there are no speed limits on the Autobahn, but what good are speed limits if you are motionless parked between giant trucks waiting to pass the latest accident or construction zone?  I wrote in my diary a full page on what went wrong for us, but it sounds too much like drinking chardonnay and reciting surgeries.  We stopped at a ruined library and a canal bridge in Magdeburg (a canal crosses a river: impressive).

Dinner was with our friend Lindsay, at the most ironically gendered restaurant ever.  It’s called “mädchen ohne abitur” which means approximately “High School Dropout Girls”, and the walls are covered with early-1960’s girl trash, whether bra straps or Barbie Dolls, pictures of Dreamboat Guys in the men’s bathroom, along with ribbons and lace, and predominantly pictures of hairstyles that you remember from your high school yearbook in the mid-1960’s before everyone started smoking pot.  If you don’t have a mid-1960’s high school yearbook, I suggest you get one.  There are thousands of them on eBay.  I don’t know why these people are letting go of their past so lightly.  Oh wait, we’re dying.  Never mind.

After midnight, we got to the hotel.  The clerk was outside the door and said Mr Spears, I presume?  And so to bed.


Thursday, August 31, we got up at 5am, returned the rental car (another renter had some damage drama), and flew to Copenhagen.  There we switched terminals, which satisfied the Apple Watch walking requirement for the week, had a pleasant EasyJet check-in experience (with such airlines you always expect much worse, but they no longer check the weight of carrion, at least on this route), and flew to Venice.  When we were there two years ago, we got Venezia Unica cards for frequent visitors, which allow €1.40 “water bus” rides (normally they are €7.50).  These cards gave us half-price tickets on the direct boat service from the airport to San Marco.  The boat service wasn’t really that direct, taking 90 minutes to get there, but it was a beautiful informative ride:  we went past Murano, and a cemetery island where Stravinsky is buried.  There were lots of little speedboats buzzing around the islands, many driven by kids.  We returned to the little hotel we stayed at two years ago, which had upgraded its four rooms to seven. It’s located right over a canal, and in the mornings we heard the gondoliers singing “Santa Lucia” as they went by.  Ray’s cousin Johan met us where we were grabbing a quick bite at a nearby restaurant, and told us what movies he’d be seeing the next few days.

Friday and Saturday we saw films.  “Invisible” was an Argentine film about a high school girl struggling with being pregnant, and having difficulty making any decision.  “West of Sunshine”  was an Australian father-and-son drama about a guy who owed lots of money to a loan shark driving his son around trying to scare up some cash:  it was One Perfect Day.  “No Date, No Signature” was a Turkish drama about a coroner who was involved in a minor traffic accident with a sick kid, who struggled with the question of whether the kid’s death was his illness or the crash; and “Foxtrot”, an Israeli comedy about a couple learning their soldier son had been killed, later reported to be a misidentification.  We saw all of these with Johan, and had festive dinners with wine and grappa.

Sunday and Monday we took a break from Venice, and drove to Slovenia.  First we picked up our friends Lindsay and Kevin at the airport (they’d just come from Berlin), and drove to Hisa Franko, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, where our friends Dennis and Paulina were after having gone camping for a few days in the beautiful mountains that are Slovenia.  We had arranged hotel rooms there, which were somewhat deluxe, with an in-room jacuzzi bathtub.  At dinner, the six of us agonized over the choice of the two tasting menus, Six and Eleven, with completely different sets of courses.  We finally settled on Eleven, of course, wishing we could have had Seventeen.  Each course had about six or seven ingredients.  Ray and I split a wine pairing; our friends each had one but wished they’d split one by the time it was all over.  All the wine was Slovenian, and the sommelier recited the history of each one.  By the end we were pretty full and snockered, but not overly so.

Monday we checked out, and drove around in the mountains, getting tons of views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance, and going to see a little river gorge.  Eventually it was time to drive back to Venice, struggling to return the car with no more gas than was in it when we rented it.  I stayed and dealt with returning it to the closed office, while Ray went and bought tickets for that evening’s films.  The first was “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri”, easily our favorite film of the festival.  It starred Frances McDormand as a mother who put up billboards complaining about the lack of action by the police in investigating the rape and murder of her daughter.  Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell played the cops.  It was followed by “Una Famiglia”, an unpleasant Italian film about a man who kidnaps women, impregnates them, and sells the babies.  Connie and Raymond Marvel were considerably funnier in that enterprise.

On Tuesday we began to see art, starting with half of “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, a parody by Damien Hirst in which supposed relics from a shipwreck were exhibited, including videos and pictures of the relics underwater.  Basically, it was the creation of tons of art, with barnacles and coral and sea creatures attached and carefully colored.  How do you color bronze, anyway?  Later we saw “Batch 81”, a Philippine film from 1981 using fraternity hazing as an allegory for the corrupt government.  The confusing part was conflating fraternities and gangs:  along with the hazing, there was a rumble with another fraternity. I’ve never really heard of outright fighting between college fraternities.  The soundtrack was their best attempt to imitate Switched-On Bach, with very bad sound quality.  The Philippines improved since that film was made, but then they got worse again, as the current regime is murdering all drug dealers in an attempt to corner the market for their own family.  There are worse people in the world than Jared Kushner.

Wednesday we walked towards the Giardini, one of the two major Biennale venues.  We looked for Palazzo Bollani, a “collateral event”, and Google Maps sent us to the entirely wrong place.  We finally found it near where it was shown on the paper map, and then saw a few more national pavilions nearby. There were several massive yachts parked along the shoreline, apparently available for charter.  The largest, “Limitless”, cost $100 million to build. One would have to ask how much it costs to rent.  (I’d actually rather ride around with a kid on a speedboat.)  We started our 48-hour Biennale pass at the Giardini, seeing several more pavilions.  The most curious was the German pavilion which was empty except for a raised glass floor.  Apparently there are performances at 11am where black-clad performers move around under the floor, but we ended up missing them.  Oh well.  We left in time to get to a program including “This is the War Room”, a short documentary about the production designer of Dr. Strangelove, directed by a guy who he mentored.  It also featured “The Prince and the Dybbuk”, a documentary about a filmmaker, Michal Waszynski, who completely obliterated his past when he hit the big time.

Thursday we made progress on seeing the Biennale.  We skipped the walk and took a boat to the Giardini, where we saw the remaining national pavilions, and the art in the central pavilion.  We walked to the Arsenale, and saw most of the art there.  One of my favorite pieces was an already-wedge-shaped MacBook Air which was sharpened, and then used to slice an apple.  Another was a maze of frames, some of which enclosed mirrors.  Various objects were placed on the ground.  The effect was that a rock would turn green as you moved around; the gray rock would be gradually replaced by the identical reflected green rock.  We looked for cute dinner places on the walk back, and found one which, like others we’d tried, was completely booked for the week.  They at least directed us to another restaurant, Local, where we were able to make a reservation.    We whiled away the time before the reservation by walking in what turned out to be a stupid little rainstorm.  Local is an exceedingly cute place:  the amuse-bouche included a cracker which, it was claimed, was made out of nerves.  The veal heart appetizer was massive; the “interpretation of scallops au gratin” served them raw; the ragout on the pasta and the fish of the day were delightful.  Afterwards there was a course of five Veneto cheeses, and a celery dessert.  We texted Johan that we were there, and he pointed out that the owner was a friend of his.

On Friday, the rain let up, and we walked to the Arsenale and completed the national pavilions there.  Latvia had a cute exhibit, “What Could Go Wrong?”, showing various alien species dominating humans after their shoddy stewardship of the Earth.  New Zealand had an animated/live action film depicting the landing of Captain Cook in Polynesia; the impressive thing was how five projectors were seamlessly lined up, making perhaps an 80:9 image.  And Italy had an exhibit in which bodies of Christ were made in molds, and then apparently decomposed over the course of the festival.  We left in time to see the Davld LaChappelle exhibit on the island of Giudecca.  Then we returned to Lido to see “Emma”, a film which was billed about a man involved with his work to the exclusion of people, but which was really about a man having an affair, cheating on his girlfriend with a very likable blind woman.

Saturday, September 9, was our last day in Venice.  We started with a program of shorts:

  • “By the Pool”, a Lithuanian drama about a guy renting out the downstairs pool/sauna/room for a raucous teen party
  • “Aria”, a Greek drama involving an Asian migrant, 
  • “Tierra Mojada”, a Colombian film in which encroaching deforestation led a kid’s grandparents to have him bury them up to their chests,
  • “Mon amour, mon ami”, an Italian film about a relationship between an Italian woman and a Moroccan man,
  • “It’s Easier to raise Cattle”, a strange Malaysian film about two sisters, 
  • “The Knife Salesman”, an Australian comedy where a salesman seduces a housewife as he sells her knives
  • “Eighth Continent”, a Greek film showing a large landfill on Lesbos consisting entirely of life jackets from refugees.

After the films, we saw the second half of “Unbelievable” at Punta della Dogana, and met Johan for dinner near Corner Pub, a bar where he has taken to hanging out practically every night, mostly to watch the clientele, who are largely students at a campus of Wake Forest in Dorsoduro.  Matteo is an amazingly friendly and knowledgeable bartender who makes it difficult for Johan to pay for anything.  The rain started back up as we went back to the hotel, and continued Sunday morning as we made our way to the train station.  We opted for a boat ride to minimize the walking.

Land of Ice

We had a few stupid travel days.  On Monday, we flew from Eugene to Seattle, waited there a few hours, flew overnight to Reykjavik (seven hours in the air, seven more hours of time change).  On Tuesday, we drove around but were jet lagged, and had to take a short nap at one point.  Wednesday was a nice travel day, driving around.  And Thursday is another stupid travel day, getting up at 5am to fly to Copenhagen and then on to Venice, hopefully arriving at our hotel before dark.

Monday, August 28, we arrived at the tiny Eugene airport to no lines at all.  The Delta agent did a bunch of typing and determined that yes, she could check our bag all the way to Reykjavik, even though it was on a different airline and a different itinerary.  So nice not to have to stand in another baggage check line in Seattle.  

A sign on the outside of the Icelandair plane by the boarding door identified the plane as “Grabrok”, a “friendly volcano” that kids climb up.  Icelandair still seems like a good airline except that now they charge for food.  We managed to get a few hours of sleep on the flight.  By then it was Tuesday.  The tiny rental car place upgraded our “compact” to a “station wagon” that was really a “hatchback”.  Perhaps if we’d taken their offer for a “jeep” it would have been an “SUV”.  We went to a generic chain bakery in Keflavik and paid $14 for someone to press the Latte button and the Hot Chocolate button, and serve a couple pastries.  Premium Mediocre.  Then we drove into Reykjavik (about 45 minutes), got some tips from Tourist Information, including a better coffee place, where we paid $14 for some light-roast yuppie coffee, some yunnan tea, and a nice bagel with salmon and cream cheese.  That was more like it.

The weather in Iceland was fine:  it seldom rained, but was unfortunately too cloudy to see the Northern Lights.  We drove up the coast.  At one point we found ourselves entering a tunnel that was six km long under a fjord.  The first four kms were a moderate downhill, and the last two were a steeper uphill, with a climbing lane; the shape of the fjord bed must be like that.  When we got out they asked us for 1000 ISK ($10), not that much more than the Bay Bridge.  We reached the central western peninsula, and stopped for some more precise tourist information and had a nap.  That information led us to a very nice place on the coast to watch harbor seals and gray seals, a large colony of ducks, and a few other seabirds.  Further along we found a tiny canyon to hike into, walking between the walls on the rocks in the creek.  Several lethargic gulls were sitting on the ground.  Maybe they were sick or injured.  We continued driving through the national park by the volcano, and stopped at a lava field coated with lichen, with a large patch of wild blueberries.  Finally, we found our Welcome Apartments in Olafsvik, and ate at one of the two restaurants in town.  We had a serviceable apple chicken salad, and “fish of the day”, fried cod with vegetables.  Only $50 or so, still a bit premium mediocre.  The fish in Iceland is considerably cheaper than the vegetables.

Wednesday we headed east, stopping to see a waterfall and a lava field.  The first waterfall was next to a mountain whose perfect shape the locals were very proud of.  The river had a curse on it that there would never be any fish in that river and nobody could ever swim because somebody in the mythic past had drowned there while fishing.  Fair enough.  Then we went to see the Hraunfossar, a most interesting formation where snowmelt flows underneath a gravelly lava field (“Hraun”), and leaks out into a river in a row of springs over the length of a thousand meters or so.  At the upper end of this is a torrential cut through a narrow twisted canyon.  It shares one property with Victoria Falls — no good vantage for a photograph.  There are some drone movies showing a traversal of the length.  I suppose somebody must have posted drone videos along the Zambezi as well.  We then visited Grabrok, our plane’s namesake volcano, which indeed was friendly:  stairs made for a very easy climb into its crater, from whose edge one also could peek into the crater of the adjacent volcano.  The Garmin said that the walk up the volcano, around the rim, and back to the parking lot, was only about 1300 meters.

It was starting to get late, and we headed back toward Reykjavik.  We stopped at Costco for gas, where they honored my US membership (though someone came out and helped with scanning the barcode), and checked out prices in the warehouse, which were obscenely high, though probably still a bargain for Iceland.  Apparently 1 out of 4 Icelandic adults are Costco members, and it only opened in May of this year.  Then we went to Matur og Drykkur (“food and drink”) , a delightful little restaurant.  The combination of the two tasting menus started with five plates involving chips:  a chip made out of dried fish, one made out of lamb, one made out of lamb testicles, one holding very-smoked trout (smoked in sheep dung among other things), and seaweed chips served with roe.  The main courses included a nice piece of lamb, and an enormous flambeed cod head, not much smaller than our own.  We got to our airbnb near the airport pretty late but the guy didn’t mind; he was just on his way to pick up one of his other customers from his arriving flight.


We discovered on the way that we had a place to stay with a music/computer industry friend of long standing. Mark is currently making Media Folio, a product which is basically a database, except with some bells and whistles and keywords that make it useful for large companies doing worldwide private things. I can imagine using it to manage our web pictures, to the exent to which I can imagine it. We walked out to the coast of the Magnolia District at sunset with Ralphie, his dachshund/schnauzer mix, and then to a nice Indian restaurant called “Roti”. The Magnolia district has a bit of everything you need, which is good, because if you are going anywhere in Seattle besides straight downtown, you will die of dysentery on the way.

Back at Mark’s house he demoed his perfect audio system, with uncompressed 96K 24-bit audio files (a Steely Dan album from 2000 which we hadn’t heard) playing through a tube amplifier which he built himself from scratch, through some old speakers which had ribbon tweeters and conventional woofers. I suppose changing either the speakers or the amp or using MP3 files would have made it sound worse.

Friday, August 25: Today I Learned, if you are using Google Maps in Seattle, double all the time estimates. Google Maps has never been particularly strong on estimating left turns, and they certainly do not know about driving across town in an urban area which only affords north-south traffic. Dave and Mark stayed at Mark’s house and worked a little at their respective companies, and then decided to walk in Discovery Park, which was previously owned by the army and hence saved from becoming condominiums during the condominium plague of the late twentieth century. Now it has giant big leaf maples and firs and trails. It takes a while to walk in it, though, and my estimate that I could, after our walk in Discovery Park, drive to see my friend Flake on 110th Street near the lake in 20 minutes (while Dave and Mark continued working at their respective jobs), visit for an hour, and drive back in 20 minutes, actually became drive 40 minutes, visit 40 minutes, and return 40 minutes. Longtime students of Babylonian arithmetic will notice that the sum of these two scenarios is not the same. The additional 20 minutes was taken out of the time we spent visiting Dave’s college friend Jeff and his companion Dana. Except the deduction had become an hour by then, even though I decided it would be far too time-consuming to drive back to the Magnolia neighborhood about the time the drawbridge came down and told Dave to take an Uber. But he got my text that I was at the Arco on Dravus two blocks before he passed that very spot, and he bailed on the Uber which still charged him $10 for four minutes (I thought they were supposed to be price competitive.)

Jeff took us to an institution called College Club. Apparently it used to be a club with cigars and overstuffed chairs and men, and then they ran out of money and men didn’t want to be stuffed around only each other so they became — I don’t know what they became. It’s a barn on the shores of Lake Union with a ton of sculls and a variety of people on the floating dock looking at their smart phones and eating and drinking. The most interesting iPhone gesture was by a young guy who was sunbathing with his friend. He set up a plastic stool, placed his friend’s shoe on top of it, and very carefully propped up his iPhone inside the shoe — then returned to his sunbathing station fifteen feet in front, facing away from the telephone, and did nothing in particular. It stayed that way for a long time. I took a picture, especially since the persons were about 16 and not wearing shirts, but it won’t tell you anything I haven’t written here.

After that it was time to go to a Maceo Parker concert at Jazz Alley with 6 others. This idea had developed suddenly in the morning when I heard that Steve, the main Sunriver perp, was taking his son Chris to the concert, and I decided to tag along, and invite others, and we were 8 people at two tables. Dinner there is OK. Maceo Parker is OK but he wasn’t playing any notes he hadn’t played before — he’s nearly 80 years old which does not show at all on stage, that datum is from Wikipedia, and there aren’t that many new notes coming out of the walls of an upscale dinner theater space when you are 80. He put on sunglasses to cue the audience he was referencing Ray Charles. I was hoping for Stevie Wonder. The trombonist honored the venue of the tour by playing some measures from Nirvana. I was thinking just then, where are the blind white musicians? The neo-Nazis need to get on this.

It was fun introducing Mark to Ray’s college friends Steve and Dean; they knew all the same people. We also met Doug and Matt, musician friends they’d brought along.

Saturday we packed up, and headed to the Seattle Art Museum where we had 11am tickets to Yasoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition, and where we met up with Steve’s son James and his companion Victoria. Allow fifteen minutes to find your way out of the parking lot next door and into the museum. It’s not obvious. Once in the show at our appointed time, we would stand in a line for 15 minutes or so, and then enter a room, the two of us, for 20 or 30 seconds. Very Disneyland. There were about six different rooms. In each, some interesting decoration would be reflected in mirrors, for infinity. You were forbidden to take photos in only one room, the Pumpkin Room, and a guard who was the exact opposite of the Boise prison museum fellow stood in the room with you, to make sure you didn’t. You could not engage her. On exiting the Pumpkin Room, I asked one of the friendly guards how come she was so dour. He said that when he was the guard in the pumpkin room, he was that way, too. Company orders. It’s all performance.

About two thirds of the way through, I became aware that a much smaller percentage of people in the museum had tattoos, than in the general population. I told James and Victoria, and they started watching, and observed the same. We came up with various hypotheses, and rejected them. First of all, the crowd was young enough. Their art, had there been any, was not shaded by Pendletons. When was the last time you were standing in line in Seattle, any place other than an old folks’ home, and you could see exactly one sleeve on maybe 40 people, mostly under 35?

Was it the early hour, noon on Saturday? Was it the persistence required to buy the tickets on line, camping out all morning on redial? The cost? All of these explanations posit a theory of who-gets-tattoos, which was maybe valid during the Carter Administration.

So, I don’t know. But it was happening, sure as shadow bands.

We had a delightful little lunch at Le Pichet. Charcuterie. Corn Soup. On the way back to the car, two men jumped out at us and said, “You dropped something!” and I thought, oh great, we are about to be robbed in front of Pike Place Market in broad daylight. But they were only flyering some hip hop show. Why they thought we were their audience, I don’t know. “Do you really get a lot of customers by pretending to be pickpockets or initiating a pigeon drop?” I asked them. “We just want to show white people there’s nothing to be afraid of,” said one, disregarding that I was in full fight-or-flight adrenal dudgeon and if we had been policemen they would by now have both been prone on the sidewalk in a sticky pool of spreading controversy.

A trip to Google suggests that acting like a Gypsy con artist on the streets of Bucharest is in fact an accepted way of publicizing your concert. Go figure.

After another puzzling entry sequence to the parking lot, we drove to Tacoma, where our Opcode coworker friend Kord’s son Christian was playing in his rock band for a sports fundraiser for a prep school. It was nice to see Kord and Pam and express our condolences for the recent tragic loss of their 19-year-old daughter Caitlin, as a passenger in a DUI crash.

Obvioiusly we didn’t know anybody at the fundraiser, nor were we likely to meet any. It was clear to the parents and old alums that we were NOKD, and the preppie athletes have learned very early in life, to avoid eye contact with anyone who can’t get them founder’s stock. But our names were on the band’s guest list, so noblesse fuckin’ oblige. I took photos of Christan and his pals on the stage, and chatted with some of the caterers. Scallop and bacon tamales. bottomless guacamole.

Grieving is where you find it.

Then it was a four-hour drive back to Eugene where we will leave the car for Kent to drive back to our house, as we fly Monday morning to Iceland.


We met our friend Jesse at the eminently popular Por Que No on the eminently popular N Mississippi Ave.  Then we stayed with our Opcode coworker Lenore and her husband Geoff.  They had just remodeled the kitchen, and had a very colorful countertop with shards of beer bottles embedded in cement, with a clear top.

The Liberal Media speak as though Donald Trump were some incomprehensible monster, with his wall-building and Muslim hate and White Supremacy. This is a lie.  Liberals understand Donald Trump perfectly, and feel the same way that he does, just about different things.

Islam doesn’t bother me much.  But if I were president, I would detain all the manufacturers of faucets in the United States and put them in one of the conference rooms at Guantanamo (They probably have names like “The Palm Room” and “Rio Grande 3” and of course “Guantanamera”) and there they would watch live video feeds of their own children being tortured and killed until they settled upon two EXISTING designs of faucets, which would then become the ONLY faucets permitted in the United States: one with one handle that remembers the temperature, and one with two handles in the old style.  And I guess you could grandfather in the ones with two handles and two faucets.  And one standard way of switching from tub to shower and shower to hand-held nozzle.

The first amendment would indicate you could make other creative designs, but they would be classified as Art and it would be illegal to sell them for less than $100,000, which would prevent their being installed in Motel 6 and airports.  And the American flag would do a Google Doodle of that way sexy old post card of the guy washing his feet in a sink.  I can’t find it right now on Google Images.

I will not say anything like “I thought I’d seen it all,” with respect to useless technological elaboration, but I thought I had a grasp on the eigenvectors of faucet design.  Ha.  Ha.  Lenore has an encrypted faucet in her kitchen that requires you touch it just-so on the side, in order to unlock the water function.  This is not some janky plumbing mishap of the era of rabbit ear antennas on the top of TV sets, this is an intentional design.  It’s touch-controlled.  You can’t grasp it.  You have to brush it gently.  I’ve gone on long enough on this tangent and I will stipulate all the sex jokes about touching faucets gently on the side.

Lenore seems to be doing well.  Her house is neat.  Her daughter Zoe is fabulous.  She likes to sort things, for fun.  I told her I needed to be her friend on that basis — she can join the conversations I have with Kent about algorithms for that.  Zoe used to do gymnastics but now is very interested in the circus; gymnastics was horrendously competitive, but in a circus everyone depends on everyone else.

On Thursday morning, August 24, we met Dave’s cousin Larissa at Jam on Hawthorne, for brunch.  There were not two square centimeters of flesh colored skin in the whole place.  I used to think that the tattoo fad would come and go, but I now think it will only fade when it is replaced by full motion subcutaneous video.

Larissa’s house makes me wonder how many hours other people have in the day.  I feel like I have really done it all, if I have razored off a couple of feet of blue masking tape scraps from the edge of a window.  Larissa has painted her whole damn house.  And she has a full time job.  How is this possible?  She also has a golden retriever which insists on taking up 105% of your attention the whole time you are on the property.
We realized that we needed to leave for Seattle “stat!” to avoid the horrible traffic.  Of course, there is always horrible traffic from Olympia through Tacoma, and that was indeed the case.

The Columbia River Gorge

On Tuesday, August 22, we peeked at some Boise sights before leaving.  We went to the Micron Semiconductor headquarters, and snapped a photo from the road of the world’s largest nitrous oxide tank.  As a result of bad Google Maps guessing, we ended up at the Old Idaho Penitentiary, and why not have a look?  The museum has the world’s most cheerful ticket taker, and an impressive prison tattoo and prison weapon exhibit.  The ticket man said we should go to the Roosevelt Grocery and have quiche.  It’s a pleasant change to take marching orders from happy people.  We had lunch in a neighborhood featuring many fine old houses from the late 19th century.  The lunch place is called Roosevelt Grocery and is notable for being across from an elementary school and they don’t forbid students from entering more than six at a time.  Lack of prejudice is worth seeking out.  The green chili quiche is good too.

Then we headed up I-84 towards the Columbia River.

We stopped at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center outside of Baker City for a little stretch.  They tell you not to walk on the ruts.  This is not to the point.  Tens of thousands of people walked on those ruts already, and it doesn’t give the right impression to show faint tracks under grown sagebrush.  Here is a proposal for another Oregon Trail interpretive center:  Take few dozen acres of the trail and build a few dozen prairie schooners and all summer long, run them (bearing tourists of course) many times a day over a one or two hundred meter wide stripe of land, rain or shine, leaving ruts and wagon parts and footprints and hoof marks and the ground would then look like the Oregon Trail actually did.

Of course you all have noticed that the eclipse followed the Oregon Trail quite accurately.  The staff had all viewed.  One very young looking clerk said it was her last eclipse.  She has had breast cancer and her future is uncertain.  She did not tolerate chemotherapy well.  Currently she is in the “they think they got it all,” phase of life, and all of you reading this, wish her well according to your various contradictory faiths, and pray that her husband keeps his insurance-bearing job because she doesn’t get enough hours in the gift shop to qualify for insurance for her surgeries and drugs.

I sent our friend Sam a post card that said “You have died of dysentery,” referring to the Oregon Trail game craze he was swept up in as a teenager.  We had previously sent him a t-shirt with that slogan, after seeing one some years back, in Portland.

That day ended in Hermiston, where we visited briefly with a very old friend who has had a career with Oregon Fish and Wildlife, assisting with the reintroduction of salmon into  previously dammed-off tributaries of the Columbia.  Now he can have Atlantic salmon, too!  In between administrative hostility at the highest level and Jurassic Park irresponsibility on the economic front — you knew we were doomed, I don’t have to keep dwelling on it.

Wednesday we drove down the Columbia River Gorge.  First we saw the Maryhill Museum’s Stonehenge replica, and then the museum itself.  The first room you enter was all about Marie, Queen of Roumania and friend of Sam Hill the founder (no, not What The Sam Hill).  A Rodin room had an interesting exhibit showing the stages of the lost-wax method of making bronze sculptures, and a Native American room had many cute artifacts.  We briefly watched windsurfers and kitesurfers at Hood River, and then saw waterfalls.  We went on a short walk to Elowah Falls, then took pictures of a woman’s water polo team getting their pictures taken at Horsetail Falls, and glanced at Multnomah Falls.  We drove up to Vista House, but it was closed so we didn’t go inside.  The view up there is pretty great.  We drove on to Portland for dinner.


For several days starting even before we got to Eugene, eclipse plans were part of every conversation.  Our friends Anna and Jose who had moved to Eugene from Long Beach told us they had a camper.  We told them they should take it up into the path of totality, and stay in it the night before (they did).  Colin and Natacia planned a week camping in various wilderness areas, and witnessing totality there.  The other Eugene residents had various plans to drive on back roads up to a town just west of Corvallis.  Most of the Sunriver crew saw the eclipse in Madras or Culver; a dozen flew up there on a little plane which had gotten one of 500 landing spots, spaced 50 seconds apart, for which an air traffic controller had been brought in specially.  The inmates near John Day, already being almost on the centerline, were hopeful they’d get a chance to see the eclipse; we gave them some glasses to help.  Our friend Mark from Seattle met some of his friends on a forest road near John Day.  And a couple of the guys at Clear Lake went to Oregon, one to a big festival with 40,000 people, and the other to a hayfield in Culver.

I had long viewed the eclipse as a good excuse to see Jill, my sister, who I hadn’t seen for a few years.  My cousin Carole suggested a family reunion in Kansas City, but I talked her into doing it in Boise where the weather prospects were better (clouds kill eclipses; fortunately there were no clouds anywhere in the West, not even at the coast.)  Her brother Hugh and his wife Rita live in Boise, and their house became a base of operations.  Carole and her husband Larry flew up from Garden City, Kansas; cousin Scott from Phoenix flew up; and cousin Ryan from Santa Clara flew up with his family (though their flight was overbooked, and his wife Beth didn’t make it until Sunday morning, after being incorrectly rerouted, fixing it herself, and spending the night in Portland with Ryan’s sister Larissa.)  And Jill drove down from Bozeman with her daughter Annika, who had rather dramatically changed from being 9 when I’d last seen her, to being 14.  Hugh and Rita fixed dinner for all of us for three nights, assuming that restaurants would all be too crowded.

On Sunday we did a reconnaissance trip with Ray’s college friends Bob and Joyce and their son John.  We went north out of Boise up highway 55, which was a narrow river canyon.  I wanted to check out Garden Valley, which Ryan had told me was a “wide valley” after looking at Google Earth.  So we turned up highway 17, another narrow river canyon, turned left at Crouch, and went up the road through the valley.  Most of it was pretty unfriendly (lots of “private road” signs, and even one that said “Get Bent”) but there was a county road across the valley, and as it started up the hill we saw a place called “Dino’s Taxidermy”.  Our curiosity was piqued, because it was in such a perfect spot.  We stopped; Dino came out and said “Are you OK?”  Bob said “we’re looking for a place to watch the eclipse”, Dino said “I don’t care where you watch it”.  He was incredibly friendly and funny and had tons of stories, and we agreed we’d be there in the morning.  Our recon was complete, and we drove back to Hugh and Rita’s for dinner.

Sunday afternoon it clouded up, but they were afternoon clouds.  I worry about that, anyhow.

At 6am Monday morning, five cars including the 13 family members and the 3 college friends headed up to Dino’s.  There were many cars on the road, but we were able to drive the speed limit all the way there.  We ended up with a little time to kill, and headed back to Crouch to shop for more eclipse shirts.  We returned to Dino’s and set up chairs out in the middle of his horse pasture, and waited for the eclipse to begin.  Dino joined us when it did.  At one point Ray told him that an eclipse phenomenon was that birds go roost a little while before totality as it starts getting dark and cooling off.  And a few minutes later, Dino pointed out “there go the magpies roosting in their tree.  And there go the ravens to their tree.  And there go the doves.”  We passed around Verizon phones to talk to a few family members who were elsewhere (AT&T doesn’t really do rural much.)

And then totality happened.  There were easily visible shadow bands that many of us saw (I forgot to look, I was concentrating on the sun.)  The corona looked to me like a devil’s head, with pointy ears and a very long pointy beard, probably the longest corona I remembered.  Prominences at 12 and 3 bracketed a solid stripe of chromosphere.  Regulus was visible near the sun with binoculars, and Venus is always visible, but I didn’t see Mercury or Mars.  Of the 17 of us there, it was the first total eclipse for all but three, and I was happy to have helped get them to that place to see it.

After the sun came back, we took a little tour of Dino’s house and taxidermy studio.  He has an elk and three antelopes mounted in his living room, which he shot and stuffed decades ago.  Modern taxidermy consists of ordering a foam form from one of the companies that make them, and stretching the hide and antlers over it, with perhaps a plastic jaw and tongue, and glass eyes.

As heavenly as the eclipse was, the ride back was hell.  It took four hours to drive back to the hotel.  The narrow river canyon roads had become parking lots.  Ryan and I walked 20 car lengths to each other’s car, and he gave me back a radio so we could at least talk to each other on the way back.  When Ryan got back his cell coverage, he learned that his flight the next morning had been canceled, and he ended up having to rent a larger car and drive 11 hours all the way back to the Bay Area.