Sunday, January 29, 2012

In the Future, Winking will mean the same thing as "Fuck You"

"Panty sniffer."
Marta learns English insults from TV. "Pedophile."
Squeezing her head out the window--we can open it just a crack--she adds "What is a flying fuck?"

It's too cold to smoke outside. Afraid of setting off the fire alarm, we resort to craning out the kitchen window. Anyone watching--and there's always some one--would see two asphyxiated chipmunks, cheeks squished between glass.

"It's an expression." I say. "It means not to care. Like, 'I don't give a flying fuck about your ham.'"

"Punta." She uses the mild Spanish word for slut. "My ham is tasty."

Marta raves about Spanish ham, a glorified raw bacon. Curiosity drives me to break vegetarianism . The ham tastes like stale Crisco.

"Does the fuck fly in an aeroplane?" Marta persists. "Where does the fuck get his--her--" She struggles with the masculine/feminine dilemma, remembers English is supposedly gender neutral. "--it's wings?

Our breath is thick in the humidity. Before coming to Wales, I didn't know it was possible for a place to be simultaneously cold and humid.

"Tu eres más feo que el culo de un mono," says Marta. "You are uglier than the butt of a monkey."

Spanish is a dirty language. "More."

"Yo cago en la leche de tu puta madre. I shit in your whore mother's milk."

Many Spanish insults are family based. Later, I learn Tu hermano no tiene la ingle , or 'your brother has no groin', as well as La concha de tu madre: Your mother's cunt.

Cunt. A good word, probably old-english judging by the vowel. I often wonder what makes a word taboo. Is it purely the sound, or is there a larger history at work? In Spanish, insults concerning shit are the most offensive.

"Cagaste y saltaste en la caca," says Marta. "You shit and jumped in it."

In English, anything connoting strong sex--a fuck or a cunt--is censored from daytime TV. Both words have prominent "u" sounds, but the Spanish word for shit--Mierda--is beautiful. I imagine an English audience applauding the word in a Spanish opera:


I return to my room and eat a banana to cover the taste of ham. What if 'banana' was a swear word? What if 'if' was worse than 'cunt'? What if censorship becomes so out of hand that--forbidden to use even articles--we are forced to communicate in chirps and coughs?

In the future, a wink will mean the same thing as 'fuck you.' And don't even think of sneezing.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dragonless Ballet

I go to the city to photograph dragons, which balance en pointe atop most public building: the libraries, assembly houses, theaters, and art museums. In the ballet of Cardiff architecture, the dragon is the prima ballerina.

When I return, my photos consist of graffiti, trash, and food.

When I'm in a new place, even the ordinary is mythical. A plastic tarp shimmers in the wind like a magic carpet. When the tarp/carpet becomes tangled in a low-hanging branch, I personify further: how dare that tree piss on that carpet's parade.

There's a play going on, I'm sure of it, a drama so serious I can't stop laughing.

The city hums with imaginary actors. The objects we leave behind are dancing in our footsteps.

Turn around. You might just catch the ballet.


Natalia hates the Copenhagen beer. "3.8% alcohol." Her Polish accent is harsh on the word. "Do you drink soda? Do you go to the--how do you say--disco for root beer?"

"It was cheap." My feeble defense.

"America is a rich country where everyone is cheap" Then, resuming our earlier conversation: "You say America hates reality, and that is bad, yes, to ignore your history. So much future! Your country loves the word."

"I think it's because we're ashamed of our past."

"The past," she laughs. "In Poland, we are always in the past, always a victim. We were invaded by Germany forever ago and---No, you must have cigarette---"

I take her Marlboro light. They say this is how it starts. The first cigarette is out of politeness, as are cigarettes 2 through 4.

"Every year we relive invasion. We parade." She drops cigarette 2 on the ground, stomps it--"like in American movie"--with the toe of her boot. "Our history is beautiful and violent but it is history." A pause as she contemplates cigarette 3. "This week I go to Amsterdam. I will bring you back, um, treasures."

"Van Gogh was dutch."

"Right! You are artist. I will bring you back Van Gogh." She starts to raise a can of non-alcohol, stops. "No, he is dead."

"He killed himself."

Natalia waves her hand dismissively. "History."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cafe Sereno (Gezus Kars)

I don't know if they remember me. The last time I walked into the Cafe Sereno, I was blonde. My identity crisis is represented by a repeating decimal: A sometimes imaginary, sometimes real number multiplied by an equal and opposite fraction. I call this number balance.


"The dark hair suits you," tuts Jo, the barrista. Of course she remembers me. I order the same thing as last time, a pot of Earl Gray contaminated--ruined, disgraced with two dollops of cream.

"Nasty," says Jo. "Yeti, Clare's here." She treats me like a regular, as if I stepped outside for a smoke two years ago only to return two minutes later.

"Still pouring sick in your tea?" Yeti is the cook. He never went to University but believes, given 10 years time, those able to open pickle jars with their bare hands will have an advantage over those with Arts-based degrees.

"All I'm saying is: does your scarf have your name on it?" He holds up the scarf he stole from the Salvation Army like a banner:


"Came from Tibet."

Knit under YETI is another phrase:


"Jesus cares," Jo, who has the angled, winking eyes of a fox, winks extra hard. "Do you find Atheism--what's the word--offensive?"

"Religion's funny." I don't know why I categorize Atheism as a religion.

Before coming to the cafe, I talked with a Theology major who never read C.S. Lewis yet managed--in a fuzzy, gesticulative way--to mention the only idea of the writer's I find truly intolerable: "Jesus must be the son of God."

"I'd rather talk about the weather--or art, even," I tell Jo. She sends me to the gallery next door. The drawings--nudes, horses, a sea cliff in Northern Wales--are just expressive enough to maintain marketability. For me, the only one inciting aesthetic feeling is a splashy smear, a border collie crouched in grass.

I still miss my dog. Suddenly I don't want to talk about art. Jesus doesn't have to be the son of God. It doesn't matter, and it's not our business.

C.S. Lewis, and my vague Theology major for that matter, believe Jesus must be divine, or else the apostles--all the Pauls and Matthews by the dozens--are wrong. I wander back into the Cafe. "Jesus was just the best one there: Smart and really kind."

"I'm smart," says Jo.

I remember a song: I guess it would be nice to give my heart to a God, but which one?

"Me too," says Yeti.

Later, the song adds but Physics makes us all its bitches.

An Atom Unsplitting: my attempt at film photography

"Me too." I step outside and shamefully light up. I never smoke. Want of conversation makes me a social smoker, though I'm alone for this one. Every time my mom lights up, she turns away and says "Have patience with your mother, who has fallen from grace."

I look inside. Jo cleans the espresso machine as Yeti holds his scarf up for a table of girls just expressive enough to maintain marketability: GEZUS KARS.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Wake Up!"

I follow the cat under a bridge spray painted with subversive graffiti:




I don't know enough about the country to agree. I don't know enough about the cat to be following it, either, but here I am, chasing a bushy tail through the gates of a Welsh cemetery.

I don't know what death smells like. Anyone who's seen death--actually seen it--wouldn't write about it. Death has no smell. It just is.

My ballet flats squelch in the mud. The cemetery goes on forever, grass and worms and upturned earth---a gnarled tree. The cat slips between the roots and is gone.

Remember: Gone isn't dead.

The cemetery is ancient. If radiation makes zombies of corpses, only a fine dust will rise from the graves. Buzzing, the dust will fly through our ears--Brains!--and carve away what we don't need. All those heavy, heavy thoughts. The song lyrics and movies we replay to torture ourselves. All that life.

I climb a crooked monument, stare into the face of an angel. "Wake Up!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

when you think more than you want you begin to bleed

Post-Apocolypse Street Lights

On the box I threw away, there is a clearly diagrammed, 4-step instruction on how to use my Bodum Original French Press.

I navigated the labyrinth of Tesco--think Wal-mart with mod furniture--only to pay 5p for a plastic bag. Wales is very environmentally conscious. Either you bring your own bags or pay for plastic.

Brown soot swirls in my coffee. I didn't wait the suggested 4 minutes before pressing it, presumably because I didn't read the directions. Still, I am fiercely proud of my coffee, which I made myself. The soot is my signature.

When my coffee is reduced to a lumpy residue, I contact Ollie--editor of Gair Rhydd ("Gay Read" if you're English), a subversive, student run paper nothing like The Penn--and get a job that will get me free tickets to art shows and post-apocolypic adaptations of King Lear:

Ollie is my only Welsh contact so far. Most students I meet are American, except a guy from Kuwait, a "high risk" country according to English flight regulations. He wears Brooks Brothers, drinks Dr. Pepper, and speaks better English than I do. Naturally, it took him four times as long to get through customs.

I sent 3 letters today, and felt appropriately hip for arranging the stamps in accordance with The Elements of Design. I also felt home sick.

"It's not easy, having a good time."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hotel 100 (I'm a Vampire Too)

I have an attic room in a skinny inn with fat pillows. A window looks out on weather vanes piling chimneys piling slate piling new stones piling old stones. Somewhere, a wailing seagull. Somewhere, a complaint about the recent soccer match: "Fuggin' Chelsea."

Always, the smell of rain.

The innkeeper has been to the U.S., where her daughter is a professional ice skater. Imagine being paid to be excruciatingly graceful. Imagine your mother hanging pictures of you, a sequin swan, in her hotel 1,500 miles away.


I meet my flat mates tomorrow. I haven't met any students yet, except one, a philosophy major at IKEA who finds my sloth attacks on the British card reader hysterical.

"Our card-gummys are really stupid." An expert on card swiping as the act applies to God, Freud, and the Human Condition, he swipes my Visa, just swipes it in the manner of a food critic fluffing his napkin after a delicious yet unsurprising meal.

"It's the same in the U.S. Just a different brand of stupidity." The Humanities: where philosophers and readers of Rilke bond over a shared cynicism of things that go bleep in the night.

When I get back to the Hotel 100, I stand under the chandelier and wonder:

What the fuck am I doing 1,500 miles away from everyone I care about, a small fish--microscopic plankton, really--in an ocean where you need a degree in philosophy to swipe a credit card? What if I find out I'm not talented? What if everyone hates me for ending my sentences with the phrase "so yeah"?

Homesick, I flip through The New York Times. "There's not much news in your news," says Abby, a fellow guest visiting family for Chinese New Year.

She's referring to an article about the Republican primaries. Mitt Romney embarrassed himself in a debate. Suddenly I'm not so homesick.

"It's the American Tradition. We call it Yellow Journalism, which isn't yellow so much as bloody neon." I try flipping to the Comics, remember there are none. "Our politicians are vampires. It's a beautiful country with lots of vampires. I'm a vampire too. So yeah."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two days: Goodbye, Iorek.

Goodbye Iorek, my bear, my love, my flame. If you were a smaller bear, I would fold you in my suitcase, put mittens on your claws. Airport security will never know.

But a bemittened bear is a humiliated bear. I could not ask you to humiliate yourself. Not you, Iorek.

You must maintain dignity in my absence. Rule with a mighty paw my kingdom of lesser bears, action figures, and My Little Ponies.

I will see you when the seasons have changed thricely. Actually, twicely. Thricely sounds better though, so let us pretend, Iorek, that May 19th--my birthday--is a season all its own.

Farewell, Iorek, and please, please do not be offended that I am taking The Unamed Tiger in your stead. He is nothing to me, my cuddly seal-slayer. Small animals are always changing, and are never named. You call them Pamela, and a year later it's "Call Me Jessica."

You know what comes after "Call me Jessica", Iorek?

"Call me Brittney." "Call me Angela. "


My kingdom is not a vague, fan-made adaptation of Middle Earth. It is a season all its own.

It is your season, Iorek. Be sure to keep my cactus watered. My Of Montreal albums listened to.

Oh, and Iorek: Get the hell in my suitcase.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Four Days

My father told me not to stick my fingers through my dreamcatcher.
"Your bad dreams will escape and haunt you."
"What about the good dreams?"

My father stared at the parking lot outside my window as if a great drama was unfolding, a Greek play like the ones he taught to college Freshman at Rutgers University. Enter, Stage Left, Sisiphus with fire from the Gods, his great gift to humans: The Knowledge to blow ourselves up.

Sun fell on the windshields of cars, the freshly painted lines between parking spaces, and--I know because my father saw them too-- the trees that used to be there, the magnolia petals clogging the stream between our house and the town.

"Dad, what about the good dreams?"


If we don't poke our good dreams from the dreamcatcher, they will rot between the strings. They will droop like the skin under our eyes. They will grow old.

When I was young, I looked for adventure in books, or in the clothes in my attic, dresses and mink coats like in the movies my mom watched when she was blue. I ambled in the woods looking for talking lions, Jimmy Stewart, a glimmer in the stream.

Just looking.

I watched many good dreams rot before I realized that adventure is not something you look for. Not outside, anyway. It's something you find under the ribby ruins of that shrine you built to your past. All those bad dreams you let haunt you.

This is what happened to Sisiphus: After giving us the power to blow ourselves up, he was punished by the Gods. He was forced to push a very-damn-infinitely heavy boulder up a very-damn-infinitely high mountain. Forever.

When you're haunted, the bad dreams roll over each other until you're pushing a putty glob of bones, your personal snowball from Hell. Adventure is letting it go. You jump from the mountain into an unfamiliar lake.

Adventure isn't the slimy boulder you're used to. It's thin air and the water like a wall of bricks, your breath knocked from your lungs.

Then you shudder. Then you breathe.


Four days until my adventure begins.