Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Some things are sacred...

This may be my first serious blog post ever.

I spent most of my life avoiding all things World War II. In my head it was compartmentalized: "Pearl Harbor" - "Nazis/Concentration Camps" - and the "Hollywood Movie" version, which never held a lot of appeal to me.

Then I got on a WWII literature kick; a fascination began and I couldn't get enough. I had to know - how did IT happen?


My WWII reading didn't start with The Book Thief but it's definitely the book that made me open to reading more. I connected with it emotionally in a compelling way. Since then, I've read WWII books set in Germany, UK, The Netherlands, Poland and Japan, and I have more to read set in Sweden, Italy, and France. Every country has a different tale to tell. But what about THE country? I needed the facts. I needed to wrap my brain around it. I needed: 

I decided to listen to the audio (and it's a good thing I did because this thing was COM.PRE.HEN.SIVE! and I don't know if I could have made it through the printed version.) At 57 hours, it was a humdinger - and it took me 6 months to complete. I was in Germany last week, and decided to visit Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich. In an eerie coincidence of timing, I was listening to the concentration camp portion of Rise and Fall while I was on the train on the way to the camp. It was all quite fresh in my mind. But nothing can prepare you for this: 

For thousands of innocents (and a few select not-so-innocents) this was the last glimpse they had of freedom. A harbinger of unimaginable suffering and certain death. Starvation; torture; utter humiliation and complete loss of dignity.
Jews, prisoners of war, and others deemed inferior by Nazi Germany were sent to Dachau or other concentration camps, and literally worked to death.
Maybe they got a spoonful of food a day. Maybe they had a pair of shoes that fit. Maybe they didn't.

After my 57 hours of Hitler's Germany, thousands of pages of fiction and non-fiction and a visit to Dachau, I can't say I'm any closer to understanding how IT happened, but this is the impression I'm left with.

Do I think anybody cares? Or will even read this? I don't know, but like so many before me, I need to get it out.

{I'll caveat this, as I always feel I need to do ... I love Germany. I love Germans. I love Jewish people and Jewish culture.}

At the end of the first World War, Germany had a bruised ego. Along comes Hitler ... and he tells the German people, "We are the master race" and they are all "Fucking A we are." And they got behind him. Not all of them, for certain, but enough of them.

I always thought of Hitler as pure evil and I'm just not sure that's accurate. He was bat-shit crazy. A complete nutter. A sociopath? a psychopath? a severely mentally ill individual.  On top of that he was probably a genius and he was a brilliant orator. He knew how to whip his people into a froth - a "furor" - a frenzy; and get them to buy-in to his whack-job ideas. Hitler told everybody EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO right from the start. So when you ask, how did IT happen?, you kind of have to answer ... the world let it happen.

One of the most important things I've learned in recent years is - when somebody tells you exactly what they are going to do, you have to believe them. That may sound simple, but our desires get in the way of "the truth." There were so many times Hitler could have failed, but he just kept going.

Here's a question I asked myself: Was the rest of the world eager to be rid of the Jews? Did they let Germany do their dirty work? Or - maybe we were just gun shy having just come out of WWI. Whatever the reason, the world is as much to blame for what happened in Nazi Germany as Nazi Germany is - in my opinion.

Dachau is a memorial today.

It's still and quiet.  Sanitized.

I felt nauseous the whole time I was there. 

There is a convent onsite and the nuns constantly pray for atonement.  Dachau today is designed to atone.
But there is no atonement for those people.  All we can hope is that the atoning that's being done, for what was done, can help prevent it from happening again.

NEVER. AGAIN. Not there, not anywhere.

America is so often criticized for sticking our noses in where it doesn't belong.  I believe that had we gotten involved in what was happening in Germany sooner, we could have saved thousands, perhaps millions of lives.  Maybe that is part of why we got involved in Vietnam in the way that we did.  It had only been 20-something years since WWII ... maybe we were scared of THAT happening again.  (And please forgive my ignorance on the topic of world history - I may be saying things that are completely "duh" - but I was absent a lot in high school.)

Maybe we are Team America: World Police because somebody needs to be.

Because this:

 can never happen again, and this:

should never have happened in the first place.

I've often wondered why so many books and movies are set in World War II.  And sure, there is plenty of material from it.  What I think, after my personal WWII journey, is that the writers and the artists and the movie makers; the readers, the visitors, the students - we are all trying to process what is ultimately not processable.  And I think that's fine.  We should never assimilate this.

One of the survivors from Dachau created this sculpture.    I think it speaks for itself.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roxanne? We'll leave the light on for you

Dearest Kitty,

I think about this often, but it’s so unfortunate that letters and journals are seemingly a part of our past. Amsterdam reminded me that there will be no future, “Letters to Theo” or “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Our culture will be relegated to sentiments no longer than 140 characters, and filled with emoticons. :-) I want to read about Sylvia Plath’s boogers! Seriously, nobody’s gonna blog about that. (And yet I Google “Sylvia Plaths boogers" and lo and behold, there is a blog about Sylvia Plath's boogers.)

The Tweets of Anne Frank just wouldn’t have been the same.

(Now Kitty, before you get your hairballs in a knot, please know that I am not mocking Anne. Anne is a heroine in my book, and I want to be her BFF. I am not making light of her situation or her tragic end. I am making social commentary about the state of our expression, and the decline of our youth because I am now 47 and talk about things like the decline of our youth. For the record, I also really love Germans. A German Jew? The holy grail, man, the holy grail.)

@AnneFrankHides: ‘Sup bitches. 12 hours in hiding. Mom already buggin’ #nazissuck

@AnneFrankHides: New boarder here at Prinsengracht 267 #oldguysleepinginmyroom

@AnneFrankHides: Somebody revealed our location L #nazissuck

@AnneFrankHides: Ooops #thenazisarecoming

Tweets with Theo

@VincentVtotheG: Duuuuudddeee …. Drank Absinthe and TOTALLY cut my ear off LOLZ #canyouhearmenow

Amsterdam is a lovely little city with horrific weather. It was so cold, and I was so unprepared that I thought I would have to purchase an Anne Frank Hoodie.

(Centraal Station)

(Dam Square - Brad and Janet nowhere in sight - Dam it!)

It's a bike town, and in the "summer" ... (Hard to call it summer when it's 50 degrees)

the sun stays out until 1030PM. (I know that's a blurry shot, but it's the only twilight photo I got. Bella! Edward!) which did not at all stop me from falling asleep at 8:00PM. Oh yeah, Amsternikki Rocked it.

View from my room at bedtime - the only sunny time of day.

I did the "tourist thing" including Anne Frank House

And the Van Gogh (pronounced Van short-productive-cough-noise) museum, and just a slight release of my inner pretentious tool, there is NOTHING like a Van Gogh sun. And if you haven’t seen one in person, you really need to. The textures are amazing, and what I think the artist was trying to express …
And yes, Kitty, if you must know, I DID receive an e-mail from my mother, to my work e-mail address, asking me if I saw hookers and smoked pot. What I can tell you, is I saw hookers. Beyond that, wat gebeurt er in Amsterdam verblijf in Amsterdam.

We did a bit of window shopping.

(Is that a carrot on your wang or orange you glad I didn't say banana again?)

Uh. Wince.

(We went back the next day and the boobies were gone. This window is classic. I wish my shadow wasn't marring its pornographic perfection.)

How much is that mommy in the window? The one with the silicone tits? Yeah, that's right. She could well be somebody's mother. Do you feel bad about gawking now?

Fun fact: They do NOT sell gum at Amsterdam airport. I cannot imagine why. Really.

Travel Tip: If you stand on the moving walkway, people know you are a tourist. (See also: complaining when the TSA takes your Costco sized toothpaste away)

Travel Tip 2: Two of the best burgers in my life have come from Radisson Hotels in Europe. Now, you may not be thinking I cannot wait to get to Europe and eat a Radisson burger, but you would be missing out.

By day 3 in Amsterdam, I realized it was really a two-day city. Maybe a day and a half. Touring choices that day were Electric Ladyland Museum “The First Museum of Florescent Art” (which I’m kind of sorry I didn’t choose), and the Amsterdam Zoo. Since it was raining and windy, it only made sense to choose the zoo. But here’s why:


Dude - I totally feel you. My neck hurts too.

The lemurs aren’t caged, but apparently won’t cross water. A fun fact I did not know. So you can get right up close to them. Another fun fact I did not know, they will scream when children pet them.

Guess what? What? Monkey Butt.

BABY Giraffe.

Mamma feeding baby and herself.

Here's something I didn't consider doing.

I seems to me that pedaling while you are drinking means that you arrive at your destination sober, and I can almost guarantee that was not the objective of this crew.

One of my most profound experiences was in the old Jewish quarter. I meant to go there, and I wanted to go there, but when I found myself there it was still a little shocking. (Because, as it turns out, I always turn left, and the fact of the matter is, I'm surprised when I end up anywhere I set out to go.) It was a very quiet street. And I stood there and sort of took it in. I closed my eyes, really trying to feel the persecution of the Jews.

And when I opened my eyes, I was confronted with it.

The persecution of Raw Milk Cheese, which is under threat of extinction. Who knew?

In closing Kitty, (I do have to admit I’d completely forgotten I was writing you a letter), I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom from “Still Life with Cigarette Pack”

Roken is dodelijk.

Roken. Is. Dodelijk.


The Sardonic Traveler

p.s. I have to be honest. It never occurred to me before this trip that Roxanne was a Dutch hooker.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Come ... Let me show you my etchings.

Spain knocked the sardonic out of me. This won't be funny, and the pictures aren't particularly great either. I know, I'm disappointed too. The thing is, I was too busy loving the monkey spit out of Spain to make fun of it, and/or take good pictures of it.

What I am saying is that Spain is a very special country and one must approach it with respect and with his eyes open. He must be fully aware that once he has penetrated the borders he runs the risk of being made prisoner. (OK, I didn't really say that. James Michener did. I read that on my Kindle while I was standing in line waiting to get into La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and it perfectly captured how I was feeling at the moment. With the exception of the irritation I felt about the guy behind me who tried to cut in line. Dude, it's a church, wait your turn.)

As usual this was a business trip, so my free time was limited. I landed in Madrid about 700AM, and by 900AM I was on my way to Museo del Prado (by city bus, by the way - Yes. I. Can.)

I have previously mentioned my position on people discussing art. My general philosophy with regard to discussing art is: Don't. Dear God, please don't. You sound like a pretentious tool.

I will now discuss art.

Museo del Prado kicks ass. I was there for over 4 hours, and visited just about every room in the place, including the temporary exhibits which I didn't pay the extra admission to get into, but used my lost tourist "no entiendo" face to great success. I saw hundreds of paintings. Including 32 masterpieces, a copy of the Mona Lisa, Goya's "black period" works (see below: Saturn eating child) and some bitchen' Roman marble sculptures. From Roman time. Like 1AD.

The general themes of the art in Prado are: Jesus, Jesus and Mary, and then some Jesus. Other popular themes were: anything sucking on a woman's breast (men, babies, goats); Saturn eating his son???; scary looking children dressed up like Marie Antoinette.

And if I may get pretentious tooly for a minute, my favorite painting was this, and I have to say that the photos of it do it no justice, and if you ever get the chance please see this painting in person. I bet you could look at it for an hour and not get bored. You might have to punch some pretentious tool talking about it though.

I also discovered Joachim Patanir who I will now proceed to love, possibly without ever seeing another of his works, and potentially forgetting about him all together.

After Prado (where I grabbed a quick lunch of Spanish tortilla, which is an egg dish with potatoes), it was time to see some of the city.
I saw this:

Somebody cherry picked this job. (I know, sad attempt)

I was told by Lonely Planet Spain that I simply must get Churros and Chocolate, so I headed out in the quasi direction of my destination. I actually Google Mapsed it. I was .4 miles away.

2.5 hours later, I found a place that served Chocolate and Churros. It wasn't THE place, but it was A place, and Lonely Planet can suck it (and we will not discuss the fact that I wrote down the wrong address.)

This is the kind of thing you read about in novels and want to try. Like the Turkish Delight in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. (Except Turkish Delight didn't turn out to be anything like what I wanted it to be, I mean doesn't it seem like it should be caramelish?) This chocolate was thick, but not as thick as pudding, kind of like hot fudge, but with a different consistency. It was not sweet. It was perfection. The churros I could have lived without, they were also not sweet, but apparently the chocolate isn't actually a drink so you need the churros to convey the chocolate to the mouth. I drank mine anyway. With a diet Coke.

Other food highlights: Iberian Pork - OMG! Tender, delicious ... fed exclusively acorns. Shut up. It tasted good. And Gazpacho. Yummm.

I could barely drag myself back to my hotel room. I was a long day. I jumped on the Metro, which is fantastic in Spain (naturally, because what isn't fantastic in Spain?), and went back to my fantastic hotel room.

With its fantastic color changing light up end tables. (What I noticed about Spain is that every detail of aesthetics is important.) You could pick the color you wanted your tables to be. I chose blue, they really tied the room together.

And its Murphy bed style reading light. I totally want one.

And if you are a so inclined .... A cervical pillow is available from Room Service.

I slept 12 hours that night. I ROCKED the jet lag.
My face ... not so much.

The next day I only had a couple hours free, so I Museumed again. This time it was the Museo Reina Sofia, and this is much more my speed in terms of art.

Dali, Picasso, and this amazing temporary exhibit by Yayoi Kusama.

Does this remind anybody of China?

There are way more pics of art I saw at Sofia in the photo link at the end. But here are a few others:

I'll stand, thanks.

View from the museum.

I call this one Still Life with Moldy Shoe

The pictures of war section was very cool

Do it yourself art.

Random photo. Carry over Jesus art.

These sculptures were really amazing, but the eyes are what got to me. I'd swear they were real

I loved that you could take pictures (except for the room with Picasso's Guernica) and I loved that you could get right up to the art. I know, here I go again. I am very tactile, and want to touch everything. Since I can't, being able to see the texture of things - particularly globs of paint, really floats my boat.

Unfortunately, that about does it for Madrid. I loved it, and I would go back ... but Oh. My. God. I left my heart in Barthelona.

And you can see why if you just take a glance out my hotel room window.

Barcelona is possibly one of the most interesting cities I've even been to. You have the Mediterranean vibe in one aspect, with the art, and the architecture, with the influence of a devoutly Catholic country.

Barcelona was way too gorgeous and my time too limited to spend any of it in a museum. So, naturally I did Cathedrals instead.

I read (and loved!) this book about the building of the Santa Maria cathedral, so it was my first stop. It was small and kind of simple, but beautiful.

Love how this turned out

Day 2 in Barcelona brought another Cathedral. People kept calling it gaudy, but I thought it was really cool.

Wait. What? ohhhh .... Gaudi. That makes so much more sense.

Saturday was my Gaudi day.

I started at La Sagrada Familia. This building is astonishing. Construction began in 1882 and it's not estimated that it will be finished until 2040! I opted for an audio tour so I could get the full effect.

Guadi was a devout Catholic, and this was his passion project. The audio tour was filled with little reminders about this. "No matter your beliefs," it would say "This is designed to be a place of contemplation. Take a moment for quiet reflection." And I was like, yeah yeah ... I have one day in Barcelona. Fast Forward.

So I'm minding my own sardonic business, WOWED by the cathedral, but eager to get to my next destination, and then the audio tour took a turn.

Music started.

And then my audio guide did something unexpected. He launched into the Lords Prayer. He got as far as "Our Father who art" and I burst into tears. It was just one of those moments. You can take the girl out of the religion ..... (I followed up by laughing at myself, and dropping an "F" bomb to cleanse my palate.)

There are a bunch more photos in the link at the end.

Since it was Guadi day, after the Cathedral, I went to Park Guell.

I’m going to do something I never do. I’m going to give you some travel tips.

Tip 1 – Traverse the city like the locals do.

Bus, walk, train, subway. First, it’s cheap. Second, it’s generally very efficient. Third, it’s fun to watch where the loogies land. (Oh, wait, that was China.) Fourth, you will have a whole lifetime of opportunity to repeat (in bad accents) to your traveling partner “Mind the Gap” and “Flora”.

Here’s another reason. As I was changing from one Metro to another, I happened upon a group of young Italian men. About 6 of them, who were clearly celebrating something as evidenced by the pink rubber breasts attached to their asses. There was a accordion busker playing Con Ti Partiro. This group of boys threw their arms around each other, and proceeded to sing along for about half the song. That shit does not happen in a taxi.
It may not sound like much in the writing, but it was one of those moments that make a trip memorable. I wish I’d thought to record it.

After that, I was ready to get to the Park. Which I hadn’t researched in the least. I planned to get a delightful sandwich, and sit on the grass under a shade tree, and read my Kindle.

Uh, donde esta la hierba?

Tip 2 – When going to Park Guell – GO PREPARED

Clearly this is not a park in the same way, the Englisher Gartens were not gardens. Meaning, not to my expectation. That’s OK. I loved Park Guell, but it is a day trip, and one you need to be prepared for.

Tip 2a – Bring your own toilet paper. Trust me on this, you don’t want to wipe with the email print out of Metro instructions.

Tip 2b – Get into the best shape of your life, and I am talking David Beckham/Madonna/Serena Williams level fitness. Because what you can’t see from the photos, is that Park Guell is less a park, and more a city in the sky. With a lot of stairs.

Ohhh … those three crosses are neat. Too bad they are EIGHT JILLION MILES AWAY ….

Tip 2c – Dress appropriately, and please wear comfortable shoes

Tip 2d – Bring food and water.

Yes, they sell it there.

I will now show you the most expensive and disgusting piece of bread ever. It was $10.00USD.

(The little piece of Napkin that got stuck to it actually made it taste better)

If you forget anything, primarily sunglasses, don’t worry. They sell them there. But not legally.

Minutes before this picture was taken, (it happened so fast I didn’t have time to get out my camera, plus I was holding the most expensive piece of bread in the world at the time and I didn’t want to drop it), we saw about 40 vendors grab their goods and run, to the shouts of “Policia.”

Turned out it was a false alarm and they were setting their goods back out in no time.

Here are several shots of the park. I climbed to the house, which I was kind of sorry about because you couldn’t get very close.

And there it was, in the distance, taunting me …

And I said to myself – my legs are throbbing, I have a paper cut on my hoo hoo, and I have greasy $10.00 bread swirling in my gut. But I don’t know when I’ll be back.

VICTORY! Uno cruce, Una Nikki.

(I wouldn’t want to travel on my own for any extended period of time, but it is really nice on a day like this when all the decisions were mine and I left behind no regrets.)

But look over yonder, in the distance …
My hotel, calling my name

There’s just one more thing I don’t want to miss. My utter fascination with the power that was ROME lured me to the Roman wall.

The fact that there are parts of structures which have been around since before Christ BLOWS my mind! And to find “Rome” in Spain is a win/win for me.
So no, the pictures aren’t astonishing or anything … but BC, baby!

(Just a small part of this wall is from 4AD, the rest was sort of built on top of it)

And my favorite Roman ruin, from 15BC, which I walked in circles for hours to find, and finally got and understood directions IN SPANISH!

The four remaining columns of the Temple of Caesar Augustus

What it was

Speaking of getting directions in Spainsh – my final travel tip …

Tip 3 – Try to speak the language. I never try in France, and it’s really a mistake. The Spanish were seemingly delighted by my attempts. Though most conversations went like this. Me: Hablas Engles? Them: A leetle bit Me: yo quero hablar muy malo espanol con tigo y es todo de me espanol, donde esta la biblioteca? Them: Oh, I understand perfectly, you see the library is indigenous to the area. Etc. You get my drift. They speaka da English, but they are SO much nicer when you try a little Espanol.

Tip 3a – adding an “O” to the end of a word, doesn’t actually make it a foreign word. i.e. “Dos ticketos for 5:15PM” is actually not Spanish. It’s just embarrassing.

Back to my hotel

And woman on the beach playing topless paddle ball

The rest of the photos are here