Friday, July 30, 2010
There is only one major rule surrounding hitchkiking in Bulgaria, one which was relayed to me in sincerity and angst - "If gypsy stops, you don't get in. Even if they smiling at you, please, don't get in." I nodded my already sloping brow, trying to realise I may have to take heed to this strange, bearded Bulgarian stoners muddled advice.
Racism aside, it is a fair enough rule. Especially considering how I value most of my teeth, toes and fingernails. Okay, so most of the teeth are deadweight, and the toes and fingers could use a clean, but what do they care? They're gypsies, and by my imagination, they have bolt cutters. Anyway, the basic rules are set, and we were ready to take the fifty-one bus down to the sixty-four-highway, where the odds were eighty to four that we would find a ride and be able to make it to Irakly, on the Black Sea coast, anywhere before four thirteen in the morning of Thursday, ten weeks and six days from today (due to the six thousand, twenty two hours spent tied to a car radiator and choking on a gag in a gypsy basement).
So, thumbs outstretched, myself and my feline companion, Carla, we took to the desolate highway with our scrap packs and tent in tow.
We started our testing ordeal without knowing more than vague snippets of Bulgarian language, snips which didn't include "please don't kill or rape us".
And as it were, we began out in the scorching sunlight, thirty plus celsius, like unholy Jesus' marching through the desert. It made us remember the story of Peter Falconio and the Sturt Highway, though we brushed them aside like flies from a birthday cake.
The further we hobbled, the more we knew: We were hobbling along down the WRONG HIGHWAY. Just an oblong stretch of gravel obviously not a correct way for hapless trawlers as ourselves, wrong as a donkey's shlong to anyone with a tenth of a brain cell left. We were heading into a no-man's industrial graveyard, not towards the untouched kilometres of white sand on Black Sea where we were searching for.
A truck driver waved us over to him in feverish trepidation, as cars began to bank up behind. There was no obvious shoulder for a truck of its size to pull over.
I ran across. In broken english, he screamed at me,
"NO! This highway, it go to hell. You not want this highway."
Highway to hell? He must mean back to Wollongong! That's a long fuckin' way, and we'd already been scorched by that place vowing never to return years ago. Time to find a different route.
So after much discussion and ridiculous map turnage, we climbed an embankment, Goliath's back bone, and tumbled up on to the savage grey runway. This time, the right coastal road.
Thankfully, there was a decent shoulder here to flag the cars over. Though, a wily hitcher had beat us to the punch. A one-eyed gypsy, (it seemed he was either one-eyed or simply his right eye was gnarled and the skin was folding over the rest of his face like a pocket for his nose) clutching a walking stick and a plastic bag, held his thumb out in the same direction as us. Striking up conversation was not possible, as his glazed working eyeball penetrated the clothing of my female companion with a depraved and empty lear... We had previously been alerted that if we really wanted to get the quickest ride possible, Carla should be wearing the shortest skirt in her possession. As it happened, I ended up wearing the skirt (mentally, at least)and she a fine white jacket with a pack of cigerettes lining the breast pocket.
"Puff, puff?" Old one-eye motioned at his mouth with his ring and index finger, both yellowed and charred. Ah! Our hapless pervert was not a demented rapist after all, he simply wanted a cigerette. Slightly offended at not being gawked upon, she handed him three of her disgusting Romanian mixtures of arsenic and saw dust and sparked him a light.
He guffawed with thanks as we slowly, slyly, ambled ourselves as far away from him as possible so he didn't effect our further chances of getting a lift.
A fine idea this was, and our movement paid off in merits within minutes. An off-duty taxi rolled to a halt, and we poked our heads in through the window to question our potential murderer.
"We - ahh-- We go to Irakly. You know this place?" Speaking in broken english always makes you feel like you're recovering from a stroke.
"Yes, I head past there. Only, sixty, seventy kilometres. You come with me."
Success- and an english speaker to boot, and not even a hinting glint of conning gypsy from shiny silver teeth. (I truly am sorry to all the gypsies, I mean no offence, I love the way your sparkling teeth shimmer in the Bulgarian sunlight as you pickpocket my precious wallet, I really do).
We jumped into his beat-up wagon of yellow and black, and spooned off back on to the tremulous serpent of a highway, south toward the beach.
One of my tent-poles, immediately as I entered, scraped across his dashboard marking the clean stereo with a horrible sideways gash. Idiot. Terrible fucking idiot. I gulped and cursed myself mutely, as he smiled and laughed it off.
"What do I care? Only my new stereo anyway."
I gulped again. Bulgarians have a funny sense of humour...
A humour which would become not only disturbing, but confusing also. A nauseating mixture of gloom and hilarity, like mixing orange juice with milk. Some of the jokes he pushed upon us, his passengers, slaves to his sundries as we rode on toward our destination, were incomprehensible in their meaninglessness.
"Two Bulgarian brothers. One, he dig well. One, he drive tractor."
Yes, so... punchline?
"This is the joke. Want to hear another?"
I'd rather eat rat-sack, I think though I answer politely, "Sure, why not?"
"Two birds are flying. One bird flies faster than the other. That is the joke."
And he kept going, mindless riddle followed by grinding twiddle. Don't get me wrong, I was beyond grateful he stopped for us. I would bow in a million praises to thank him for his benevolance and offer him my sister's virginity in payment for his illuminating kindness (thank the world I have no sister) but I still, uncontrollably, began to grow irritated at the irrationality of it. Just the slightest. though I broke out in wheezy laughter at the bizarrity of his sentences. He couldn't be for real.
So he starts up again, "One more. Where you from?"
"So this is a joke about toilet. You, do you mind joke about toilet?"
He sounded like an obscene Soviet comedian asking Carla in his thick Bulgary accent.
"Of course not! They're the best ones."
"Okay! So... When you're in Australia, what hand do you use to wipe your behind with, after you're finished using toilet?"
"Ahhh, let's see... the right hand I guess."
"WELL, in Bulgaria, we not use hands! We use toilet paper!"
Ah, ha ha. Be careful with that joke fella, it's an antique, I wouldn't want to see you break it.
An hour or so after pouring down the muddy highway, in sweat and in uproar, he dropped us off at the dirt-end of the beach road we were setting up to trek along to find our infamous black sea. He waved us off in Bulgary hospital style, like a colourful doctor of the damned. So with a wink and a grimace, and chortled, "Maybe one day I see you in Australia!" and cracked his horn, which sounded like a hog on heat, and careened off back down to wherever except the travel agency to purchase a plane ticket to Australia. That would not be happening.
As we strode on down the narrow, crawling passage, the blue tinge of the water already gaping open through the shrubbery on the horizon, a vision of wonder for weary travellers; bumblebees cavorting and singing and slender storks nesting in hollow stumps, the cachanations of crows and the endless drone of the insects in the brown fields, and our sweat, and our backpacks and our longing for swim, amid all this as we strode and sang and played harmonica, and we realised, oh how it dawned, we had learnet a new rule about hitchhiking in Bulgaria.
! A rule which we must spread to the masses, however few of them may listen,
"Man, Bulgarian humour is terrible isn't it? Next time, I think it is better to ride with gypsies. It should be a rule- listen to no more opinions on Bulgarian hitchhiking" We agreed and I thought of the huge crack I had made in the poor driver's car stereo, and gulped and began to ponder possibilities for the way home tomorrow.
"There must be an ulterior passage" I mumbled as images of a foul, fish-stenched and booze-drenched Romanian bus driver picking us up for the way back fondled its way in to the frontal lobes of my mind. I quivered and shook my head in acceptance of tomorrow's destiny. Boat building was never my forte anyhow.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Seperate the head from the body and what do you get?
WHAT DO YOU FIND?
Tell me! Have you discovered it yet?
There is no answer!
For these answerless queries,
They’ve cancelled the bets,
Have you got any theories?
Enlighten the severed brain stem!
As the head floats off to space,
Help to ponder this paradigm of an unfinished race;
Because a bodiless head,
Without the constraints of weight,
Surely carries a truckload of grace.
And a lone weaving body, headless,
Should in all measures create less of a mess,
A head without a harness,
Should be free to think and digress
But! Once again we have plunged into it.
The wheel and sponge of it,
Spooning us along,
Situations of sleepy, sideways
Pushing, craving throngs,
And so...The head,
Amputated from its body,
To keep on singing its seperate song...
...Which brings me to the next chapter of our fine saga:
BOB DYLAN IN SOFIA, BULGARIA at the National Palace of Culture
(as recounted through train blurry sleep deprived hallucinations)
"Ahhh am a ma-an of constant sorrow, I've had trubbble all through my days...."
Bob's piercing alligator moan dribbled through the speakers as we rode into
The sleeper train aids the meandering thought process; it gives leg room for the legions of forgotten memories and troops of triumphant ego black holes to bubble up and find time to ruminate on the surface.
And so it was; together with Bobby, and my relaxing hobby of chewing sunflower seeds, the tulip girl to the side with giant great ZZZ symbols leaping from her forehead, together with all this jumble and malarkey, the trip was told and my thoughts were free to wander.
"Robby Zimmerman," I pondered, spitting seeds into my shoes, "How the fuck did he manage to stay alive, the old gutter bird..."
The train whistled through side-alleys and strange towns, with no names at the stations, where indescript passengers strode off to find their fate and families in God-knows-where near to the baltic border of Bulgary and Romania.
Anyway... How did Bob Dylan stay alive through all those years? Did we really just witness him, this ancient relic of clandestine times? This monsterous marrionette, still plucking away in his own grotesque tune to the same creaking songs?
Was it real? Onstage, under the red lights blinking like buoys out at sea, old Bob wandering around like a dementia patient, in Sofia, Bulgaria, three days prior? Was it?
Perhaps it wasn't! Perhaps those sounds, those rickety, rackety zimmering zaps, were coming from some escaped loony of the Bulgarian nut house. Somehow the loony, (Bob Robber) figured a way in to the National Palace of Culture, disguised himself as a decrepit curmudgeon cowboy, and sung a few of the hit Dylan songs he knew through the radio, in a drawling hullabullo. Easy to imitate, I can't see why he couldn't have. Many famous musicians have their identities stolen in precisely this way (for example, when a tone deaf, schizophrenic, peodophile replaced Sting onstage in the fearfully remembered 1999 tour of Oslo... no wait, heavens... that was the real guy...).
Although! Chance aside- on this evening, it could have been, just as the world makes its twenty fifth squillion (approx) rotation of the sun, on this exact drifting evening, that the real Bob Dylan stepped on stage to wow the crowds who never thought the wind would blow that old geezer into Sofia, Bulgaria anytime soon, and for their eyes only.
It was the first time Bob and his entourage had flung their so-dubbed Never Ending Tour in to the sunny shores of Sofia. The first time the Bulgary mass of Dylan fans (approx 6) were able to catch a glimpse of the wounded war hero himself, battling it out with the microphone for an hour in the death-ring that was The National Palace of Culture.
National Palace Of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria.
"Hmmm, I never heard this track before..." A grating Dylan track jars my ear drums. The sky keeps changing colour outside the train window. It has fallen from a thick green into an omnipresent grey, the all encompassing grey of the lowlands. And I realise...the music player has switched off, no batteries. The sound I thought was Bob Dylan was actually Frangipani, beginning to snore amid her snoozing. Oh well, easy mistake. Where were we, chew chew, sunflower seed, spit...Bobby, coming on to stage...
He stood there, looming as if he were a shadow who managed to become a man. Donning his trademark ivory cowboy hat, with a face as long as a highway, Zimmerman stridled up to the mic stand to greet his audience in a fond murmur.
"eohfehjkn...he he...zzeeeee plasss, de de de" he stuttered in baby talk. Without further ado, he launched into his song Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat, one of the better numbers from his 1969 album, Blonde on Blonde.
We immediately noticed something. There was one spectacular difference between those old recordings and the way this almost septuagenarian (69 years old- the scruffy revolutionary of the nineteen sixties is now a crusty evolutionary entering the drop-end of his sixties) sounded nowadays; his voice was shot into oblivion. Singing like Tom Waits scrubbing a toilet bowl, the whiskey gutted vibrations made us chuckle with an incredulous fever back in the ninety-ninth row where we were positioned in the
Listen to him go! He rattled on, the old steam train, and was cracking out foggy dance moves (the ‘Where are My Spectacles Boogie,’ the ‘You’re Old Enough To Be My Daughter Or My Wife, Tango’ and the ‘Giddy-Up Cowgirl, Pappas Got A Brand New Hip’ jibbering fandango got the audience jumping like fleas at a dog fight).
Bob rarely speaks at performances. People say this is because he is rude, or perhaps because he is actually dead and strung up like a puppet on strings- a corpse forced to dance by Sony to make up for all the unsold shitty Wallflowers records his son made. Whatever the case, we didn’t need to hear him speak. No sir, he did fine just wobbling his jawbones out there to make our bunch and the Bulgarians happy beyond our weirdest fantasies.
He spat, gargled and chewed his way through ‘Things Have Changed,’ (one of his better nineties releases, off the album Time Out Of Mind) but it still came across as bad-arse as the Mississippi school kids who used to pick on him back in the old jew-lynchin’ days. Yes, he sounded mad. It made you think of his childhood, the days he never talks about in public, but everyone suspects they existed. Bad Arse Bob, getting his revenge on the little hokie anti-semites by slugging it out through the wires.
Bad-arse or bad singer, all this aside, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘going through the motions’ ethic with Bob. He really wants to affect the crowd, if only because he hates them so much.
And he was right on the mark. Despite his aging, alcos voice, Just Like A Woman can still cut through the foundations of gender, the foundations of love badly burnt, right to the core.
“With her fog, her amphetamines and her pearls...She fakes, just like a woman...Yes she does! And she aches... just like a woman...” Bob wheezed on and we were hooked in. You can sell emotion in contemporary times with a catchy hook and a sexy look, but back on Bob-time and the world seems real and not plastic or bought over the counter with condoms and a sparkly ribbon and a barcode. Real, love tearing hurt.
I look over at the tulip girl, and she smiled back over.
Then, casting a disgruntled look at the audience, Big Bobby D-fect mumbled some incomprehensible bunk, and, with a wry wink, hopped into A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, sending us into an uproar.
Songs with fifty thousand verses! Where was this these days? Beat poetry fuelled by society in chaos, the anger at boundaries of genre and a head full of drugs and ideas.
Ahhh Bobby. Standing up there, his silk shirts, his cough and his cowboy hat; there is a man who has weathered many a storm, highly publicised as they may be, to keep himself away from the prying eye of the media. And how did he do it? One of my favourite Dylan media quotes is when he said, “Why would you want to be happy? Everyone can be happy.”
He just wanted to be different in everything he said, the little bastard, different and difficult. That is why watching his early interviews and his later documentaries; you can really sense a gifted PR student coming through the glazed old vessel. Dylan gave birth to the modernity of PR- the clever management of stars and sellebrities to mould them an image. I would say Bob likes to say he coined that idea.
Even as the cheeky larrikin everyone remembers with his curly hair and battered smile from the black and white footage, standing onstage and playing his blasted harmonica all over America, even then, as we do now in Sofia Bulgaria, Bob really makes you think about things you yourself have been through, with him, around him, his words curling through your mind like a tumbleweed.
As Allen Ginsberg stated in the Martin Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home, Bob Dylan’s fame can be attributed to “Maybe it was like Jung’s theory- Bob Dylan somehow managed to climb inside society’s collective unconscious...and once he was in there, no one could get him out.”
Now I don’t know if this is the quote exactly, but watching him up there, butchering his own song (Highway Sixty-One) though raising the whole audience, including myself and my two teammates, you can tell for sure this guy has some kind of magical influence. Holy or not, or just the good drugs he seems to have been indebted with, it is something, kind of, woe to say it, spiritual.
This is the guy who sung on the steps of the Whitehouse moments before Martin Luther King Jr would orate a speech from the same podium. This is the same man, who in 2010 sang The Times They Are A-Changin’ in
And then he was gone. A creepy bow and an introduction for his band, and he was whisked off stage and back into whatever iron lung or cryogenic tank was waiting for him.
Or did he? Encore, he appears!
Stumbling back out on to the small cardboard square the Bulgarians are calling a stage, (which was lit up by a giant video of a red eyeball), the familiar plunks of the keyboard sounded the beginning of Like A Rolling Stone.
The weary champion on the night, Bob, strode on back, clapping his hands together and picking up his gold shining guitar.
“HOW DOES IT FEEL?? TO BE ON YOUR OWN! A COMPLETE UNKNOWN! NO DIRECTION HOME! LIKE A ROLLING STONE..."
We helped him out, my friends and I, perhaps a little too wildly for the patrons in the rows in front of us. Never mind, they smiled onwards, and we kept screaming an’ a-shouting an’ a-hollerin’ out the lyrics which Bob himself had probably forgotten during an acid binge three decades ago.
One more track left for the night. A jazzy rendition of Blowin’ In The Wind. The much touted ‘hymn of folk music’, a celebration of early hippies and their free loving ideals, a recurrent catch cry for equal rights movements, a sweet, gentle poem sung by an innocent little kid.
While I watched him up there, his Napoleon rags of age shining through now, I had to fall back in the chair, and I could see, I could see with my eyes, as he rambled on up there, so vividly, the young 20-something kid of the black and white television clips singing the same damned song with its rhetorical limericks about “how many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?” and I wondered to myself, on the verge of meltdown,
“How many indeed? Too fuckin’ many Bobby, too many by half... look at you, angular, though hunched now, decrepit, alive, how many until people call you a man, a real, whatever it should be, man, a vision of your fathers eye, and look at me, look at us all, who will ever know, are we men or are we just sitting and watching our heads depart from our bodies in sick bliss, perpetual, day in, day out waiting for somebody to turn off the lamps, waiting for the sweet goodnight complement of, ‘you made it, man, glad you could be here, glad you found the room’, just searching, constantly forging our ways through smoke and fire and hazy winters to find whatever space there is left for us, for the individual, amid the ever-growing populous of a globalised world, where, where, where, how many roads...”
And how many seas must the white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand... the answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Blowin’ up your arse Bobby, play one more!
The tears subsided; the old crooner left the building and was whisked away before Bulgarian bandits had time to steal the hubcaps off his Cadillac.
Sitting in his car he probably stares out into the dark mountains which surround the inner city of Sofia, looks back, in wise contemplation, into the review mirror at the fading image of the monolithic Stalinist era National Palace Of Culture and says to his driver, in his grinding gutter charm we love him for,
“Christ, Benny, what was I doing coming to this place? It’s fuckin’ weird, too weird... did you see those people? I’m gunna be on the phone to fuckin’ Jenson by the mornin’... ahh let’s just get the hell outta here... You got a light up there, B-B-Benny?” and the car whisks off into the crippled eve.
B-boom, b-boom, b-boom, b-boom,
The endless thumping of the railway rafters were suddenly coming to a slow,
B-boooom, B-boooooooom, B-booooooooooooooom,
We were pulling into
The train whistled, signalling our arrival and the early sun signalled the inauguration of a new day- a new country where we, as travellers, had no idea of the language, the currency, nothing. We pulled on our bulky backpacks, our priceless though meagre possessions and hurried together out of the rusty train carriage. The platform was already crowded at six in the morning, and I could see the hovering gypsies waiting to try their luck at scavenging our money. I sighed, and tried to lug the bags on to the other shoulder as Tulip navigated on the map. I hadn’t slept, due to my cloudy night-daydreams... and there was but one line which made any sense to me, out of all the english language writings in the universe, and it was Bob, articulating his wheezy heart out,
“My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet, I have no one to meet, and the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreamin'..."
And with that, Tulip girl leading the way, into the jingle-jangle morning I went following.
Monday, June 14, 2010
|We reached Sofia, Bulgaria in the orange-peel sunrise of an early summer morn. Lurching through the wooden door frames of the Hostel Mostel, sweltering in the Bulgarian heat, fresh, mossy gravestones for eyeballs, weary and jangled from bizarre Turkish border crossings- seeing the buzzing fluorescent of the hostel lights and the noticing the fragrance of fresh coffee, we felt like we had arrived at 'The New Oasis'. The curly headed counteress behind the desk ushered us in with such beaming amiability, I had the impression we were about to be scammed. Not so! The staff at this ex-Communist storage facility are among the friendliest and most helpful people of anyone gainfully employed, anywhere. They sit you down, practically spoon feed the free breakfast into your deformed jowls, then proceeded to wash your plates. Wash your plates! At a hostel! When this incident transpired, I turned to my partner and whispered something about the Twilight Zone. Then ... More »|
|We reached Sofia, Bulgaria in the orange-peel sunrise of an early summer morn. Lurching through the wooden door frames of the Hostel Mostel, sweltering in the Bulgarian heat, fresh, mossy gravestones for eyeballs, weary and jangled from bizarre Turkish border crossings- seeing the buzzing fluorescent of the hostel lights and the noticing the fragrance of fresh coffee, we felt like we had arrived at 'The New Oasis'. The curly headed counteress behind the desk ushered us in with such beaming amiability, I had the impression we were about to be scammed. Not so! The staff at this ex-Communist storage facility are among the friendliest and most helpful people of anyone gainfully employed, anywhere. They sit you down, practically spoon feed the free breakfast into your deformed jowls, then proceeded to wash your plates. Wash your plates! At a hostel! When this incident transpired, I turned to my partner and whispered something about the Twilight Zone. Then, Damien, the young Bulgarian skater assistant will sit you down and regale you in detail every single item of interest in the entire of Bulgaria. After his four hour long lecture on the invasion and quashing of the Ottoman Empire, the liquor Rakia and the workings of sexually-ambiguous Bulgarian folk music, you will be risen, like a levitating Buddha, to a vast and unsurpassable level of enlightenment. As the nighttime set in, as will happen to you, our free beers were far and merry down our gullets, and we prepared to sleep in our cheap as lard loft bedroom, shared with twenty other hopeful Mostilians. In a manner perhaps too loud for a couple of Frenchmen, (who my friend later dubbed as homosexual frogfuckers to their faces) my friends and I sat and bantered about the greatness of this hostel, and the utter selfless helpfulness of the staff. One staff member offered us his beer which he was drinking! Amazing! Another took us out on to the street, hailed us a cab and waved us away as we went to the casino! Unbelievable! One Hostel Mostilian powdered us with Colombian cocaine and lavished a harem upon us! (This never happened, but they were really almost this generous!) "WOW!" screamed our inebriated companion, Piggy Bardust, "THIS IS THE BEST HOSTEL IN THE CREAMING FUCK UNIVERSE!!!" (And was replied to by a bad French accent) "WHY DON'T YOU SHUT UP YOU AMERICAN PEEEG?" The Frenchman hollered, eyes enraged, from his bedside. "AMERICAN?? I'M AUSTRALIAN YOU FUCKING SNAIL!!" Piggy retorted utilising his endless wit. Needless to say, sleep wanted to come fast before a fight. So, anyway, despite intermittent invasions by hedonistic Australian's and swampy Frenchmen, this hostel is by far one of the best for value and friendliness in Eastern Europe. As my partner and I left, jangled and weary once again though now for entirely different reasons, we asked our beloved curly headed counteress to help point us in further direction for travel. "Oh, well, there's another Hostel Mostel in Veliki Tarnavo. I can give you the address if you like." And so it was as it will be for you- Off to number two, ready and gluttonous for another whirl of the famous Hostel Mostel hospitality. Thank you very much. I only hope they build twenty more. « Hide|
Saturday, May 22, 2010
"...Yes! The absynthe first, THEN the whipping. After! Yes, after the liqour, comes the ritual, ha ha yes, where the towns men go into the women's bedrooms to come at them with the whipping."
KWPISH! She jokingly imitates the crack of a cattle whip, not realising into what fearful realms the two brothers were falling.
"Usually our clothing is thin, as we just woke up, lying in bed, morning sleep crusts our eyes, yes then KWPISH! The whips cut into us, and we laugh. Then, from underneath our dresses, we throw them chocolate! Then the men, they leave, tie a new coloured ribbon around their whip and go to the next girl's room. The hero, the man with the most coloured ribbons by the end of the day, is the most masculine male in the villiage!"
Ludwig and Mutt glanced at each other as her diatribe continued.
"Haha yes! Also, after midday, the women are able to throw water on the men, to extinguish their flames, their passionate BURNINGS...but only cold water. The men must be allowed to keep whipping, without scald."
Our fellow passenger to Prague, blonde and tall, typical for Czechish women, carried a dizzy composure to match her dialogue. As we sat, uncomfortably wedged between a bratwurst-breathing German and a cricket clamoring Hindish, we, the two Australian travellers listened in perplexity to her diorama unfolding in front of us- of this ancient Czech Republican Easter tradition.
"Ah huh," I pondered what she had just told us, wondering why in fact, on this Easter Long Weekend, we were heading here, rather than, say, anywhere else on the planet.
I surmised, "So, basically, the men get boozed on hard liquor, and then beat the town women?"
"Yes! Exactly." Our Czech counterpart was excited: we had grasped the concept.
"And the women throw them chocolate in retaliation?"
"Yes! It is great fun, especially in the villiages!"
Not to sound culturally insensitive, but isn't this a bit like the savage Huns used to act around pillaging time? Ludwig leant over, close and out of earshot of the Czech girl, who was by now jabbering away to our moustachioed driver, Milan.
"We have to find this whipping thing." In seven words, Ludwig had ushered in the weekends mission.
"I'm dubious," I replied, louder than needed. "Something smells weird about it..."
Milan turned his cold Sovietske granite face to stare at me whilst still driving.
"YOU THINK MY CAR SMELL LIKE STINKING SEWERAGE??"
No, No, raging Russke, Mr Milan, your car smells like heaven overgrown with roses, please, let's just get there in the same form we left in, what'dya say, stranger, can we??
Easter in Prague? Jesus Christ. We were on our way to the resurrection, the rebirth of plague in the hearts of Australians, and there would be no return, no tumbling, not backwards, not now. The ancient red of the European sunset descending over the hills, as goats and roadhouses flew past the windows, reminded me of the Australian desert, or somewhere similarly stark and unfriendly. We crossed the border into the land of strange signposts and breweries, and then it was,
"HERE WE ARE!" Yelled our hitch, Milan, "PRAGUE! CAPITAL OF ZE CHHECK REPUBLIK!!" Milan beckoned us out of his stinking Volvo. Queue the empty wasteland. Nothing there except a KFC and a postbox.
"Umm, is this is? There isn't really much here...Isn't there supposed to be a castle or something...?"
Milan chortled at us.
"You must get train 30 kilometres from here. Then it is main centre."
Okay! So thanks for taking us to Prague Milan, enjoy the rest of your strange existence on the outskirts of nowhere. And to you, dear lady, I pray they do not leave any lasting scars from the whippings on your smooth and dangling legs. Okay, see you then, take care!
Ludwig, his ridiculously oversized bag and I, had reached the cavity known as the Czech Republican capital, Prague. Well, nearly. But the story today is not about this medievial museum of a town, a town known for Kafka, Absynthe and being a tromping zone for every dictator and his dog to roll the tanks on through. No, we want to get to the whipping, and that deep, eccentric earth exists around the Austrian/Czech border, in a old villiage called Czesky Krumlov. A town of lesbians, mud wrestling and whiskey. And no, all you perverts out there, not at the same time.
TWO DAYS LATER
Streams of melting snow blocked off the causeway as we waited between dogs, shifty schoolchildren and old men, potentially former Czech Republican dictators, on a rocky torpedo of a local bus. Winding and wildly careening, the guard rail seperating the wheel's of the vehicle from an abyss of 700 metres into vertical, picturesque countryside, was little assurance. The road to Czesky Krumlov. My brother's mood was even more turbulent than usual, and he refused to sit down. I was heaving in my own head and my functions were operating at base level (Eg, sitting, staring, howling like a spider monkey).
Through the fault of almost disaterous lateness, we had been the last to passengers to board the bus. There was only one seat left for two of us, and it was next to a dribbling Alsatian. Typical. "Better than sitting next to a Spider Monkey," I could almost read my brother's glare.
Ludwig was peeved because we almost missed the bus. We ran from the centre of Prague, mulled wine in hand. Spilling red over my soiled shirt, thanks a lot. We had decided it was prime opportunity to stop, discuss the weather and enjoy a amiable drink with a Lithuanian counterpart, precisely fourteen minutes before we were due to take our (paid for) tickets on a rural districts bus. We were escaping the skyscapers, the hustle and moan, of touristical Prague, and heading for the medieval crater of Krumlov near the Austrian border. That is, if we made the bus. Barrelling passed digified Asian photo fiends and teacherous tourist traps (Museum of Sex Machines and Torture anyone?), Ludwig with his spastic suitcase, and me with my hobo sack and boderline brindle, hacking my lungs in exasperation.
We had to catch a train to get to the bus. An elaborately webbing transport system of a foreign country, where their backwards letters mean exactly bupkiss to my map deciphering dementia. I had established how to order a beer, and that was enough.
"Quick! Platform 3" Ludwig sprang into being, still panting from having to lug the Taj Mahal around on his back.
We sprinted, leaving Ussain Bolt in our muddy wake, and made the Number 3 train to Hell. Gathering our breath, now we had to figure out where in the fucking crocodile creek of a backwater we were heading to would be our waiting bus.
An middle-eldish female, snout like a truffle sniffer to be sure, sat, red-coated opposite me and I attempted to ask her directions in my broken, shabby German. She replied in English,
"I am German, and I have no idea what you just said,"
"WherethefuckisthefuckinbusstationFUCKya?" did she understand my reply? Not by choice.
A helpful Czechish broad gave us some hints, we thanked her, departed the train, and were sprinting once again.
We had one minute to get to the train, I kid you not, we were already on tenterhooks, and now they were dangling over lava. We had made it! The bus station. Now a maddened dash to the platform...or....
"I'm going to go to the toilet!" Ludwig announced sprightly.
"Great! Can you get me a beer while you're at it?" I retorted, smiled, then ambled amicably off to the platform...
Wait, what freakish Chinese Checkers are we playing at, there is A BUS THERE WAITING! By this time Ludwig was whistling and zipping his fly, somewhere, distant, guzzling the atmosphere down at the bus station.
The bus driver started fuming, screeching at me in Czech jabber and slapping at his watch with his knuckle. I kept saying,
"Hold on! My brother, my...ahhh brother, he's coming!!!" and I blockaded the doorway from closing, even though he had lit the engine and was ready to fly. In retrospect, I don't think he would've cared if I had been dragged for miles caught in that door jam, bouncing along the tarmac like a disused sleeping bag... So as Ludwig was searching out to fulfil his brother's alcohol hankering, I was getting angry yabber hurled in my direction... Then, he appeared on the horizon, oh so far away...
"LUDWIG YOU FOOL!!!" I bellowed, coarsing my ribs, "HURRRRY THE CZECH UP!!!!"
"Maybe you should shout louder." A helpful Czech youth suggested to me.
Ludwig caught sight and starting running, a girlish gait without the zeal my emotions were crying for, and we climbed aboard our tumultuous transport. Doors closed, we were off. No seats. Dogs. Moustaches. Many.
"Fucking hell Mutt, there was no fucking beer anywhere, fucking shit, I think it's a fucking Czech fucking holiday or something, you and your fucking alcohol, Jesus fucking Christmas, you should get a holster on that fucking problem, fuck."
As he hammered on, as Ludwig spoke with the colour of a radioactive rainbow, all I could envisage was opening a fresh beer to drown him out.
WAIT! Hold on to your helmets vikings, wasn't there some theme about pussywillow whipping we were wandering towards? Some kind of bizarre spanking tradition, we were going to delve deep into, a Bohemian fetish, an excuse for the Bratislavan babes to get a little sexual satisfaction, a whip or two on their svelt and exercised arses by the gruff Czech louts looking for a laugh, weren't we getting somewhere near there? Or maybe we should let sleeping cultures lie...
Though we did witness the whipping. I believe, in the soggy dredges of my memory, it was in the days between two brothers wrestling in the mud for an American pornographic princess (TAKE NOTE- IF YOU SEE THIS ALLEDGED 'PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTIST', DO NOT SUBMIT TO HER BIDDING. YOU WILL END UP SWEARING AND MUDDY AND COLD, AND SHE WILL NOT EVEN SHOUT YOU A BEER) and one brother forcefully booted, mud-caked pants and a dirty haircut in tow, off a train heading south to Wien... I guess, it was...somewhere, in this ether of events over the Long (Lost) Weekend, lay the whipping.
It is probably better to eradicate these memories than transcribe them and scare others. It's just not fair. After all, it was Easter. Couldn't we have just bought an egg?
For those interested in further reading in Czech traditions and freaky perversions, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_the_Czech_Republic will answer your queries on the whipping frontier. Don't take notice of the wiki phrase, "cheerful and lighthearted holiday, " as we saw the trees for the hiding eyes, and know what they really meant was "fearful and plighthearted horrordaze." Or something similar as we rode on, muddy and plighthearted, over the dying red sun and into Austria.
Friday, May 21, 2010
As I arrived in the dusky basement, time was already amassing aftergrowth; I was late, and everbody was as carved as lambs at the slaughterhouse. Lead down there by some Swede or Turk or incomprehensible Cockney cowboy, I thanked her and then shrank- they were already into their fifteenth jägermeister shot, and bellowing like walruses to reach the hundred mark. Hungry Centurions. My comrade, Piggy Stardust, had fore-warned me this would be happening- they had reached 200 hundred beer shots the week prior, maybe twenty-five penguins the week before, and now wanted to try for the 'big guns'.
"One hundred guzzles of that brown death goop," I assured myself as I heard their retches and witnessed their gratuitously withered eye sockets, "Is never going to happen".
-and as I descended those stairs, like the arrival of the sooth-sayer, my prophecy spoke truths.
It was the first time in over two years since I had set gaze on my dastardly friend of childhood, Piggy Bardust, the soldier from Mars. And by the look of him, it had been two years since his gawking features set gaze on any type of showerhead, unless it had been one which bilges out mud.
As I neared him, he growled and staggered upward, aghast, throwing his arms in the air and cheering my name, or praying for rain, or something, at least, into the heavens. My welcoming into the fen.
Alas, this chivalrous greeting was as short lived as a midget drug overdose- *BAM* out of nowhere, a girl alledging faction as his girlfriend, mowed him over and on to a metal bucket, in a fierce spear tackle, as only an Australian woman knows how.
Piggy was groaning, unholy, un-soldier like- it coupled with the wincing trepidation building in my psyche, churning in my system, trying to prepare for the days ahead.
Suddenly, in a wild dawning of the damned, Piggy cracked one bloodshot peeper open, registering my outstretched hand cast out as a ballast, and took the leverage of welcoming. A smiled crept on to his hairy face, he cringed from his wound by the bucket, and he shot me a "Mate... how ya doin'?" We were back.
Within one minute of this rekindling, the jäger's were pouring, severing the brains from the brain stems of these already twisted bar barbarians. Needless to call it, nobody lasted the hundred shots. Piggy was vomiting over my shoes and his own hallway within the hour, leaving me to disappear out into the Camden night... but hold the train, we are jumping ahead here...
This was the basement of The World's End. World's End- the illustriously touted 'metal bar', in the epicentre of dishevelled ol' London, opposite the Camden Eye, hour's past closing time. After forging my way past the Cockney Turk to the downstairs nightclub (The Underworld), a club of reknowned seediness, I was haggling the locals for info. This was a venue infamous for a crime against drum-kits, commited by Kurt Cobain in the early nineties- a club where the cockroaches looked better than the indie ladette patrons, and where instead of telling you to watch out for the urine puddles torrenting the dancefloor, the bouncers yelled 'SURF'S UP!'
Next days, ailing from algoes and aches which could have only been born in a murky wonderland like the Underworld, I was blessed with the week's finale, the final blazing firework display of atrocity. It came one morning around 6AM. A Thursday I believe, as I dreamed haplessly of deserted paradises. Amid this sickened visage, an eclipse swept across my desert sun. Awaking, I found the fattest, hairiest, drunkenest crazy meat torpedo of a World's End worker named Frank or Dave or Freddy, proceeding to try and get into my bed and pass out. At this moment, I was IN THE BED, and believed I would be crushed within seconds. A flabby pick-up truck of flesh barrelling towards me, I squawked, "DAVE, YOU FOUL FUCKER, WATCH OUT!!!" Then the proliferating bag of protoplasm plunged down, in a volcanic lunge, to fall asleep like a wee baby under my covers. I was standing on the bed, woken by this fearful attack, and thanking the moon he didn't shatter my spleen in my slumbers. Now, how to get rid of him? This took some serious thinking, not to mention water and beer pourage over his gargantuan head. When he finally lumbered off, naked as the new day calling, I felt the sheets- they were wet, and yes my friends, they were yellowed. I felt a dirge inside me rising.
"Really? Could he...?"
By the end of the week, I left with a bag full of sopping wettened fabric I previously called clothes, a ruined copy of Dostoyevsky, a bile-stained wallet 300 Pounds the lighter, and a headache the weight of Pavarotti's tumour.
But if I were called back into Camden, the fluctuating, multi-faceted, ever-astounding suburb hounding LIFE LIFE LIFE into all corners, then yes, I will go. If only to break Piggy out of his dungeon.