December 31, 2009
December 25, 2009
November 23, 2009
November 19, 2009
November 15, 2009
When I read things, my writing especially, I read in my coolest voice. Now you read in yours.
I arrive at a building with a sign in front that reads Zoologisches. I go up the steps and through two sets of glass doors and standing there in the foyer is a Polar Bear, arms up overhead, his mouth wide open. I look up, thumbs at my chest tucked beneath the straps of my backpack, my mouth open too, just a little. He’s at least twelve feet tall. I approach for a closer look. Really just a skin stretched over a foam mannequin, glass eyes glued in place, he poses no threat to me. But I imagine otherwise. Of course, in the wild, it would be different.
The polar bear, I discover, is the most carnivorous of all bears, and the largest carnivore on land. They feed mostly on seals. I learn that despite spending months of the year in the open waters, polar bears make the majority of their kills elsewhere – where water, ice, and air converge. Scientists call it still-hunting. The white bear keeps motionless beside a black hole in the ice. He waits patiently. He knows that eventually a seal will come up for air, and after a little while one does. The bear bites it by the head, flips it onto land. He drags the seal, its gleaming flesh against ice crust - drags it away from the water’s edge to where nothing else can get at it, and with his massive jaws he crushes its skull and feeds.
I slow-walk loops around all the rooms of the museum, across the animal kingdom, through varying levels of complexity, and past points in evolution. The bones of a woolly mammoth, a creature now long extinct, have been put back together again, and it stands alone roped off in a room’s center. There are birds arranged in glass boxes on branches, with pink heads and black wings and green backs and blue bellies. A fox looks alert against a wall painted to resemble the sky, and tufts of grass come up from the floor. Dozens of butterflies are pinned to a board and still absolutely brilliant in their symmetry and coloration.
After an hour I’ve had my fill and leave.
Outside the museum I see a staircase that climbs the building’s exterior clear to the roof. I take the stairs up and at the top I find all grass, a well-manicured lawn for a roof. I walk to its edge and from there I look out over Zurich, the city no longer all gray, down upon the park with people roaming, and out across the lake back toward Italy. I feel energized in a way. It’s a beautiful collection they have in there. Maybe, “a concentrated expression of life on earth.” But I can’t get over this feeling that, despite being as comprehensive as it is, it lacks something. I don’t know what exactly. But a vague sadness lingers there.
November 9, 2009
Where do I go now? Without even a hint of any plan, I walk in the direction I’m already pointed. Out the bottom of the staircase I connect with another street, and I walk a stone path, and a few blocks down there’s a canal, the Limmat River. Inside the city it comes to me as a great relief. It’s something to which I can direct my attention. I can hold onto the Limmat. Surely it will take me somewhere.
I follow the river and observe swans swimming in circles, and I stop to take pictures. After that I find a smoke shop and go in for a look. But really, what I want is to find out is whether marijuana is legal, but I chicken out and don’t ask. Instead I look at all the pipes, don’t say a word, make eye contact with the shop-owner and then suddenly break it, and then leave. He probably thought I was planning on robbing him.
A few blocks down I meet the river’s source where it opens wide to Lake Zurich. The lake is massive and calm. Along its shore there runs an arboretum, what any normal person would call a park. There are a few vendors there. I have a beer and a hot dog and go to the end of a pier and let my feet hang out over the water. As I sit there the day thaws. The clouds break. I go for another beer, and then onto the grass where I take my shoes and shirt off and from my backpack I take my hacky-sack and I kick it around for a while. The air warms up. After a while I sit and pull at the grass. From the middle of that field I look around.
I need a place to sleep tonight, and this park must have something to offer. I take a look around. Small dirt paths meander like game trails through bushes and trees along the lakeshore. I find areas where I can spread out on the ground, recesses behind sculpted hedges and hideouts beneath low-lying branches. And then I see it, tucked back behind tall and wispy trees, hardly visible at all, a small concrete structure. I approach it for a closer look. It’s seven or eight feet tall, with a flat roof, probably storage space for parks maintenance. I go through the trees and stand beside the building. I pull myself on top of it, and immediately I can tell that this is where I will spend tonight. It’s hidden from sight and elevated, up and away from critters. And it isn’t far from the lake, from the sound of the water lapping at the shore.
I stow my sleeping bag in a nearby bush and set off to wander aimlessly.
For a few hours I zig-zag my way through tall buildings downtown, through an area of cafes and fancy shoe stores. There are vintage clothing shops and new-agey knick knacks for sale. I walk through the red light district. On the side of one building there are large legs crossed in fishnet stockings and stilettos, and everywhere, “X-X-X” across marquees. For lunch I have a mediocre sandwich in a ritzy part of town, and later I stop for a cup of ice cream. In the time I eat my ice cream I watch a kid in big pants and a cockeyed hat covertly sell dime bags of weed. I finish my dessert and approach him and ask if he’s got any for me. He’s just sold his last, he tells me, but I can go around the corner and buy some at the store.
Inside the store it’s dark, all brown and saffron colored. The walls are covered in Buddhist things, hanging medallions and beads. Incense burns and the smoke fills the air. There are shelves of jars filled with various roots and powders and herbs. I ask the girl at the counter, “Can I buy some weed?”
She puts a finger to her lips and goes “Shhhhhhh!!!” She whispers, “Call it tea.”
“Sorry,” I whisper back. “Can I buy some tea?”
From there I go into the hills in search of a place to smoke. I find a set of benches behind a church and roll a joint. I get super high. My mind drifts from one place to the next, to Italy, to Massachusetts, to California, and back to Switzerland.
I take to the streets again, almost always choosing to walk uphill, up and away from the city below.
November 3, 2009
I have some stories that I've been poking at for the last few years. I think that if I use this blog as a tool - a source for pressure, like keeping everyone tuned in - I can chip away at stories one "chapter" at a time, thus not allowing myself to revise, thus... finishing something.
And it's like what a lot of authors have done in the past, releasing pieces one section at a time, a one-part-per-publication sort of thing.
This story goes back furthest. If you've ever been around a campfire with me you've probably heard it. I've written it on five or six occasions, all of which have been really terrible. I want to finish it, and put it behind me.
My writing makes me think of two things:
1) How self-involved I am,
2) This article from the Onion, headline: "Commas, Turning Up, Everywhere."
I think Zurich, but really, I have no idea where I am headed. I just haven’t realized this yet.
Just a couple of weeks ago I arrived in Italy to live for three months, to attend an art school of almost all Americans, to have some experiences, to see the world, find some direction, put college off.
Not long ago – only four months ago – I was at an east coast prep school. It was a good school out in the cuts of Massachusetts, where the winters were long, the hills piled high with snow and the trees tall and thin and sad looking. My friends and I, we frequently hid in those trees, knee-deep in the snow, and we smoked joints and cigarettes, and the tree limbs were encased in a flawless ice covering. Back at the dorm I applied Visine and in bed slogged through Kerouac, enamored.
I am on a train to Switzerland. I just woke up after an all-night ride. It’s dark in the room. It’s quiet enough that I think the strange silent lady I share the cabin with is still asleep. On my back, from my bunk, I lift an arm up over my head to the window and pull the shade back. The cabin is lit up. I perk up, roll over to my stomach, and see that the train is moving fast through a steep green canyon, and then there are blue waterfalls falls cascading down one after another, and then the walls fall backwards into rolling hills that stretch far, far off into the distance. I have arrived, I think.
Two days ago I decided I wanted to go to Switzerland. I don’t know much of anything about Switzerland. I’ve always imagined blonde-haired, fair-skinned women, lush green hills, and deep blue waterfalls. That’s enough. So I got on the internet, pulled up a map of Switzerland, and it couldn’t have been anymore rudimentary. It was marked with the names of only four, maybe five places. I saw Zurich, had heard of it, and decided that was where I’d go. I’d go alone. I’d travel light, like a beatnik, a vagabond with a rucksack. I went and got the ticket.
The night of my departure I showed up to the train station drunk. I looked to the rotary schedule up high on a wall and couldn’t figure the thing out. I didn’t see Zurich anywhere on it. Wafting over the crowd, over all the muddled noise, I heard women singing “California Dreamin’.” I went to watch and listen. There were about fifteen of them, all with blonde hair and milky-white skin and absolutely beautiful, and they sang the song in rounds, very well, and when they finished the crowd applauded and dispersed, and I approached and explained that I was from California. They seemed only mildly interested in this. But I told them that I was looking for a train to Zurich, and asked if they knew where it was. They told me that they were going to Zurich too, back home, and that it was time to go.
But the train doesn’t stop. It keeps galloping through the countryside, and it hits me, that Zurich, as one of four places on that map, is sure to be a city, and a large one at that. For a moment I consider deboarding at a small nameless village in the hills, but it’s raining and it all looks so inhospitable, and in the end I decide against it. We roll through wooded hills, and not long after, arrive.
As one of the world’s largest centers for offshore banking, and as home to the Swiss Stock Exchange, Zurich is Switzerland’s commercial center. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. Zurich is the wealthiest city in Europe. Zurich is a far cry from the hippy-dippy wilderness retreat I’d just barely aimed for.
I step off the train in a t-shirt and shorts and it is cold. Like, really cold. Should have packed a sweater. I exchange currency and exit the station, and the sky is a mat of gray. It seems that everything in this city is gray. I cross the gray street and there is a gray staircase and I go down it for a place to put some pants on. Halfway down I stop and scramble to get the pants out from my backpack and onto my body. For a moment I am naked from the waist down in the elbow of a twisted cement stairwell in Switzerland. I am in Zurich, but really – and this is when I realize – I have no idea where I am.
to be continued...
October 19, 2009
September 21, 2009
and i was just looking through a book that has kept me company for a few years now: Notebooks 1935-1942. These notebooks belonged to Albert Camus, writer and philosopher. I have never read a book by Camus, but for several summers in a row, during college, I picked the notebooks up wherever I'd left off the summer before. And it always seemed that wherever I was in the book, what Camus had to say always jived so well with where I was in life. The notebooks are full of quotations that make one feel, how do i say...bummed, or lost, or, no... inspired. in my mind, Camus points out how unaware we can be, how off-kilter we can be, what shallow fucks we can be, what little retards we can be - that i can rise higher and maybe one day meet my potential. on the other hand, camus seems to suggest we not think too hard about what we're doing, that we just go with it.
1.) "The peculiar vanity of man, who wants to believe and who wants other people to believe that he is seeking after truth, when in fact it is love that he is seeking this world to give him."
2.) "We haven't the time to be ourselves. All we have time for is happiness."
3.) "We do not have feelings which change us, but feelings that suggest to us the idea of change. Thus love does not purge us of selfishness, but makes us aware of it and gives us the idea of a distant country where this selfishness will disappear."
4.) "The most dangerous temptation: to be like nothing at all."
5.) "The demand for happiness and the patient quest for it. We need not banish our melancholy, but we must destroy our taste for difficult and fatal things. Be happy with our friends, in harmony with the world, and earn our happiness by following a path which nevertheless leads to death.
'You will tremble before death.'
'Yes, but I shall leave nothing unfulfilled in my mission, which is to live.' Don't give way to conformity and to office hours. Don't give up. Never give up - always demand more. But stay lucid, even during office hours. As soon as we are alone in its presence, strive after the nakedness into which the world rejects us. But above all, in order to be, never try to seem."