Thursday, December 04, 2008
Lucky for me, I get to do some cushiony home-style travel first: Sweden for Christmas, followed by a couple of days in Colorado for Christmas II, then New Year's Eve in Portland, followed by a little more Colorado, just for fun. After that I'll either be in pieces or restored, and ready once again to court the most mundane/exotic illnesses of the world. Details soon!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Q&A: Broke-Ass Stuart
Five bars in four hours: It's a slow night for Stuart Schuffman. The bouncy 27-year-old from San Diego is wrapping up months of research on his second book, Broke-Ass Stuart's Guide to Living Cheaply in New York. Due in November, it's part of a series published by Falls Media. The first book, which covered San Francisco, evolved from a zine Schuffman published in 2004, a gleefully impolite guttersnipe's survey of cheap-at-all-costs entertainment and food.
Schuffman's slogan is "Young, Broke and Beautiful," but you need to be only one of those things in order to appreciate his mission. He treats an evening of bar research as a scavenger hunt, with a list of likely venues in one hand, a reporter's notebook in the other and a digital camera in the pocket of his winter coat. ("It's not as warm as it looks," he says of the coat. "But I got it for $10.")
Tonight's quest begins when Schuffman gets off work, around 11pm (he had a part-time job at a sushi restaurant). At Peter McManus Cafe we find $3 pints of Bud. At Flight 151, an aviation-themed bar, Schuffman wins a drink in the hourly trivia contest, but the lousy jukebox outweighs the free beer. ("Power to the people!" he says. "Just don't let them pick the music.") At Rawhide, a black-windowed gay dive, we miss the gogo dancers but dig the cozy vibe. Finally, at an Irish pub — one of two places we try that won't make the book because they lack a sub-$4 pint — Broke-Ass Stuart sits still long enough to answer some questions.
So how broke are you really?
I'm fucking seriously broke. It's not just PR talk, dude, believe me. [His girlfriend nods.]
How did Broke-Ass Stuart first come about?
It started as a zine. I was working at a candy store in North Beach in San Francisco, and a guy from my neighborhood growing up came in. I was at a point in my life where I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. So this guy and his fiancee come in, and his fiancee gives me her card, and it says "Travel Writer." I was like, "I wanna be a travel writer." So I decided to become one. I did a little zine. Really little. One issue. And I did it for, well, the initial investment was like $50. I made a bunch of copies, and I sold them really quickly, so I made more. They sold quick too. So I did a Volume 2 about a year later, which sold even quicker because by then people knew about it.... After that I decided I wanted to do Broke-Ass Stuart, but I didn't want to do it all myself, so I had to find a publisher. And I found a publisher on Craigslist.
Heh. Yeah. Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don't.
How long did the first book take?
Well, it was cumulative. All the zine research went into it, you know. So it's hard to say: three years? or four months? I dunno.
What made you decide on New York for the second book?
Well, I wanted to, you know, "expand the brand." And New York seemed like the next logical city. Because if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!
How do you even make the rent in New York on the income of a waiter/writer?
Well, living with your partner helps. But we've had to move four times since we got here. We've found all our apartments and roommates on Craigslist, too.
How do you find leads and compile your lists of places to check out?
I use Yelp a lot. They're sort of a dorky crowd, but you know. My ideal is to find a place on Yelp with one dollar sign and like one review, because that's gonna be a good bar. The places people consider cheap here — if the beer is $4 during happy hour, that is not cheap.
Is there anything you like to splurge on?
What do I splurge on? [He turns to his girlfriend.] Not a lot, right? I eat out. I don't cook, I always eat out. So my money goes to food. But even when I eat out it's still pretty cheap. I mean, you could stay home and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and save a shit-ton of money, but we don't do that. So my money goes to booze and food and rent, and that's really it. Since I've been here, like nine months, I've bought altogether maybe six articles of clothing. Seven. [Pause.] But I still look fly, I mean ... you know ... when it's not too cold out....
Whenever I do get money I spend it on travel. Plane tickets. Or if I get a chunk of money I spend it on shit that I need. I've just now got some money coming in, and I'm gonna buy a new pair of jeans, and I'm gonna hopefully buy like a nice cell-phone. Because my cell-phone FUCKING SUCKS, I hate my cell-phone. But I mean ... the way I grew up, my mom doesn't cook. My parents go out to eat three meals a day. When I'm not in town, they probably eat, like, cereal. My dad eats cereal, if possible, every meal. That motherfucker loves cereal. Dude, I love cereal. You know what? I love Cookie Crisp. Oh my God. [Pause.] When I was growing up, my house was like the center of it all, for my whole neighborhood, all the kids, and part of it was because my mom bought sugar cereals. [The cereal talk continues for a good 15 minutes; Broke-Ass Stuart and his girlfriend debate various brands and preferred levels of sogginess.]
OK, so there must be times when you're beyond broke: do you have any kind of a fallback, an emergency cushion?
Well, it seems like when I really need it, something comes through. And I think if someone was gonna, like, cut off my arm to settle a debt or something, my parents would help me out.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
We stayed until after Obama's speech, then went out into the streets, where the scene was equally amazing. Universal elation. Nobody was home in bed. I walked along Fifth Ave and up to Fort Greene, and on every corner people were clustered together in bouncy little knots, laughing and cheering and doing little victory shimmies. Every car that went by was honking; girls hung out the windows yelling. The whole way down the street, people beamed at each other, we all did, every single person grinned ecstatically at everyone they saw, like we'd all been given super high doses of the same medication and it was totally kicking in. People don't smile at each other that much on the streets of New York, generally speaking.
When I got up to Ft Greene, a huge street party was rocking the main intersection - there was a band, people were dancing. It filled up the whole street. I stood at the edge for a bit, still totally enthralled. Usually, seeing masses of people all in the grip of the same emotion freaks me out. But this was different. This euphoria felt hard-earned and deeply rooted, somehow volatile, and edged with a grim understanding of how terrible the same scene would've looked if things had gone another way. People were thrilled and overjoyed, yeah, but it was a complicated joy, and you couldn't miss the underlying whisper saying it was about damned time.
Monday, November 03, 2008
All of which is to say I was worried that when I went to see the current iteration of the band last night at the Zebulon (or is it just Zebulon, no "the"?), I might not get home in time to go to class the next day. My fears, it turned out, were unfounded. The show started right around nine thirty, and I was home by midnight. (I felt vaguely disappointed by this.) Steve has been living in Japan, apparently taking really good care of himself: he looks great. (He looks like some early, rejected version of the Pirate Johnny Depp, washed ashore and rescued by a Tokyo clown school run by kabuki bellydancers, or something.) Most of the songs had Japanese lyrics, or so he claimed, with occasional shouted choruses of hilarious simplicity ("Blah blah blah! Oh my god! Holy shit!", for example, and I'm only partly paraphrasing there). Everyone danced like maniacs. No chickens were harmed.
Here they are on MySpace.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Anyway - so that's done, at least until the edits come back. I can now get back to worrying about grad school, with accompanying bursts of panic about the murky gloom that awaits me immediately afterward. Am currently revising an essay about how my very immature lifestyle choices are in fact somehow artistically or creatively or socially productive. My main argument is that the people who made all the smart moves - buying a house, investing in stocks, planning for the future - are suddenly going, "Holy crap! Recession!," so maybe those of us who were too busy stealing good dialogue from the barflies at the Sandy Hut to invest in anything bigger than a lottery ticket will turn out to be winners after all. Haha. We shall see how that one goes over.
Meanwhile, I've been reading a lot.
These are some of my required books for this semester (others are waiting optimistically on the bedside table). A few are from last semester, and there are six books in the stack that have nothing to do with school. Any guesses?
Speaking of reading...I nearly fainted in the bookstore the other day. Keep in mind that I faint at the drop of a hat. Still. For my class on polemics I had to buy a copy of Against Love, by Laura Kipnis. This mission sent me deep into the bowels of The Strand, which normally I'd find the pinnacle of happy Friday-night activity. However. Against Love, it turns out, is filed under "Relationships." It's not an inconspicuous row of shelves hidden discreetly in a corner, either. No. There's a Huge Sign, with big black letters: RELATIONSHIPS. Implication: Bad At; Hopeless In.
I couldn't find the book right away. So there I am, frumpy little dame in her 30s all alone on a Friday night in Manhattan, staring in desperate panic at the shelves of The Most Embarrassing Section Ever to Appear in Any Bookstore. I felt woozy. Suddenly the whole room seemed to be full of vaguely attractive men, all of them staring at me, like, Jesus, there's a one-way ticket to Sadtown. The world went fuzzy at the edges, and I had to duck over into Self-Help for a minute, take a few deep breaths and calm down. "Relationships." The horror.
In other news, I went to a free screening of the Swedish vampire movie, "Let the Right One In." It was excellent - bleak, weird, icy, hilarious in that typically Swedish way that's always also uncomfortable. I hadn't thought of the Swedish sense of humor being a perfect match for a horror film before, but it totally is. Anyway, go check it out. Good times.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Props to Margo for the link. Keep scrolling down...it just gets better and better.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Greetings, neglected legions. Busy times in Beckyland! Some disjointed updates for you:
On a recent mission to watch the Indianapolis Moto GP race, I tromped out to this Williamsburg bar that usually shows the races on a big screen on Mondays. (Better late than never.) Well, as often happens, one thing led to another, and before long I was invited to Florida (or Long Island) with a blinged-out local retiree who said he was scared of motorcycles but that if he ever got one, it would be 100 percent chrome. He looked like an older version of James Caan - white polo shirt, gold chain, pinkie rings, thick and tidy wads of cash. He told me about the '57 Chevy he used to drive up and down the street we were on (Driggs); the car had seven layers of black paint on it. "Bulletproof," he said. His friend had a red one, same deal but nine layers.
He asked me if I wanted boys or girls; at his age, he said, he was probably past that point anyway, "but I would be willing to try with you." At some point during the evening I told him how old I was. "I usually go for younger women," he said. "You don't mind if I look around, do you?"
They called the race, due to hurricane, but not before Rossi had made his way to the front. "That's your guy, right?" said James Caan. "You sure got some power."
On Saturday night I went out for drinks with my pal and colleague Leif Pettersen (go read his blog, Killing Batteries), who turns out to be allergic to me. He was a good sport, though, and helped me avoid doing any real work until almost four in the morning.
As for my other adventures this week, let's just say losing two of my four ponytail hair-tie thingies was the least depressing but most representative consequence. The world is small and mean, and the city is so big. It's all left me in a weirdly unsettled, trancelike state, the perfect mood for reading Joan Didion, which is lucky because The White Album was one of the week's reading assignments. The pace of school is picking up, and I'm a shockingly slow reader. (I savor.) My list of boyfriends has expanded to include George Orwell and Edmund Wilson, for anyone still keeping track.
For Friday's class I get to write 50 to 200 words about why I'm special and the rules don't apply to me. I sort of think it goes without saying, but whatever.
Found this today at the very end of Harper's magazine; I like what the semicolon does to it:
"In space, the earth's shrieking could be heard; Mars's soil, said chemists, will support asparagus."
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Here's the living room/book cave -- and right behind that fan in the window, there's a GIGANTIC spider hanging out on the other side of the screen (but for how long???).
And here's a pic (bad, but I like it anyway) from a couple of weekends back, when Brenda came to visit and we went to the farmers market that happens every Saturday right outside my door.
Monday, September 01, 2008
He also invented a three-wheeled car (the Dymaxion car) that could parallel-park in two square inches, held eleven people and got around 35 miles to the gallon while hitting speeds of up to 120mph. And this was in 1933.
Recently my grandpa sent me photos of the army hut he and Granny lived in when my dad was a tiny munchkin. It was basically a particleboard cube, so small they could barely all fit inside at once, but housing was scarce at the time and they took what they could get. Meanwhile, Bucky was marketing self-contained home kits that cost hardly anything, went up in a day, and could be transported anywhere cheaply. Orders poured in, but the things never got made. What gives? And what about his floating cloud cities? or the gigantic pyramid community outside of Manhattan, or the geodesic dome over Manhattan?
None of the really cool stuff ever gets invented. We are lame.
Anyway. I also went to Film Forum one day and spent the whole afternoon watching French crime films: Un Flic and The Sicilian Clan, both starring my boyfriend Alain Delon. Pretty great.
Yesterday I hung out at MOMA, which I'm starting to love almost as much as Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The big exhibit now is Kirchner and the Berlin streets - I love his angular prostitutes, all sleek and vivid. I bet they'd be fun to hang out with. They look cool:
Also spent some time in what I call the Freaky Germans room, with Otto Dix, Max Beckmann and George Grosz - the Grosz they had up is SO super yucky, it's a portrait of an old man and the skin on his head is too thin and shiny, you can see veins and blech, it's just gross. Great, but gross. Like the old hacking dude in Prizzi's Honor - extreme nightmares. I love Otto Dix but he's scary; his self-portrait at MOMA is plastic-zombie creepy. Photos of him in real life make him look pretty rad, but the painted version gives you chills, man. Christian Bale in saranwrap.
Mostly though I just walked around and looked at the city. It's huge! I walked past the UN by accident, so now I know where to find a police officer if I should ever need one. Jeez. Later on the doorman at a fancy apartment building tried to get me to buy his Honda Interceptor (red), but it looked awfully shiny and new. I doubt I could afford it, much less ride such a thing. (I miss my little Hawk, though. She is chilling in Zach's garage. And the racebike is chilling in pieces in Jack's garage...more on that later, no doubt.)
I'm dragging my rucksack to the apartment today - the place is in Fort Greene, actually bordering Fort Greene Park. It comes with a nameless fish I'm allowed to kill if things go badly. Updates and photos once I get settled in.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Now it's Tuesday morning. 5:23am, Portland airport. Hope I remembered everything. Spent yesterday evening sitting on the deck of Zach's new apartment, which has a view over the entire kingdom of Portland and all its adorable landmarks: everything from the Made in Oregon sign to the tram. (The tram is so exciting! Portland as paperback book cover! It doesn't look real.) I french kissed the entire city, and my motorcycle, then napped on my couch for a few hours, and here we are. May post a PDX Summer Fun Roundup later on.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
In case anyone's wondering why I haven't been globbing much lately...here's some LP math for your morning's entertainment. Current project allows Your Author five and a half normal weeks of writing time to produce about 71,100 words. By "normal weeks" they mean they're calculating this as if you get weekends off (ha!). This means producing about 2,500 words of sparkling prose a day. Many of those words are phone numbers and things like "open noon-3pm on alternating Tuesdays from June-August but only Sundays and every other Thursday the rest of the year" -- not too taxing creatively, sure, but tedious to arrange. Especially when you're getting the info from a reindeer-mauled notebook or a used cocktail napkin and you have handwriting like mine.
The other part that makes the math a bit weird is that, really, you don't write most of the book from scratch. It's an update of what's already there, so some of the text is going to stay as it is, if it's fine that way. The basic early history of Sweden, for example, hasn't changed much since the previous edition. (Bad example, though, as LP has a "new style" for its history chapters, meaning significant rewrite.) Anyway, what we're really counting here is not so much words written as words prepared. Or something like that.
Anyway. Yesterday I wrapped up a big chapter, which allowed me to do an accurate where-I-stand word count. Uh-oh! The scoop: I've been home and writing for 15 work days, by which I mean Monday through Friday, days when regular people work when they have real jobs in offices. One of those days was a holiday (July 4th!), so let's call it 14 work days. In 14 workdays at 2500 words per day, I should've finished 35,000 guidebook words. That's a lot! So how many do I really have done? Get ready:
What this means, of course, is that (1) I'm freaking out a little, and (2) in the margins between today and tomorrow I need to crank out 10,000-odd words. Plus today's 2500! Whoo!
I'm already tired just looking at that!
OK. I'm off to inject some coffee and look around for an easy chapter that's already perfect...
Thursday, July 10, 2008
- Days in country: 38
- Kilometers driven: 7818
- Same distance in miles, according to an online converter: 4846.695299451205
- It sounds cooler in miles!
- Kilometers of trails hiked: probably about 100
- Kilometers of city sidewalks explored: 4846.695299451205 (not counting when I was lost)
- Peed in the woods: many times
- Non-adorable cottages seen: two (plus one that was just so-so)
- Elk spotted: one
- Reindeer: hundreds
- Australians: only one!
- Pairs of shoes annihilated: one and a half (I've been limping)
- Hotdogs eaten: one
- Herring for breakfast: five times!
The last little bit of my trip was spent in Harnosand with the whole family, as described earlier. Sample photo:
GB and Mini-GB. Dang, that chick is small!
Best quotation of the trip, taken from a report about reindeer, their history and uses:
"The intestines made nice toys for the kids."
When I flew back to Portland, the boys picked me up at the airport in a minivan. It was supposed to be a van full of cute boys, but by accident they had instead filled it with cute girls. Oh well. There was also beer, and just enough room for my luggage, so I was pleased. We cruised around for awhile, attempted to look at the sparkly lights of Portland from Mt Tabor Park, were denied by Johnny Law, retreated to Beulahland, had one beer each and all went to bed. (Not together.)
A couple of days later, John G and Sean came in from SFO for Margo's Awesome Goth Wedding and we immediately went out for drinks. I was still jetlagged and waking up at 3am every day, which meant things started to look weird and woozy by the time the bars closed, but it was fun. (It also made me wonder how much time can pass before you have to concede that what you've been calling jetlag is really just your personality.)
JG and I went to Powell's. I love Powell's. I bought four books. Because if there's one thing I need, it's more books. One of them was Kevin Sampsell's new book, the ickily titled Creamy Bullets, and as I was carrying it around the store, there he was. I saw him see me holding his book, and I didn't know what to do - it was already autographed, and I've only met him once a long time ago, and I just sort of froze. Looked away. Awkward.
The other things I bought were Gary Lutz's Partial List of People to Bleach, which I keep hearing about (mostly from Kevin Sampsell! who published it), and a Paul Berman book (for skool), and this book called Motorman by David Ohle, whose new novel The Pisstown Chaos (which I just started) might be the weirdest thing I've ever read. Planning to review it somewhere so I'll save the details, but if you're impatient and like reading weird things, pick it up.
And that's all for now. More guidebook typing awaits!
Still noisy, though. See those windows? Huge loudspeakers in disguise. Broadcasts of the 28th Avenue Street Noise Show begin at 6am and go until about 3am. My favorite segment is the one called "Local Homeless Guys Frighten Drunk Hipsters for Cash," which comes on around 2, but otherwise it's quite peaceful here.
Anyway, I'll be in town until the end of August, typing away at LP's Sweden guidebook and other secret projects.
Speaking of Sweden...update and photos coming later today. Honest!
Sunday, June 29, 2008
If you ask me it doesn't seem like a super nice place to raise a family. (Even a tiny bird family.) But, then again, when your alternative is to build your nest outside the airport in Newark... OK, I admit I don't know much about Jersey, but Newark I'm pretty sure is no milk-and-honey paradise for the small and winged. (Is it?)
Also, airport people eat messy fried food. Crumbs everywhere!
Plus: man, it is pouring out there. Smart birds.
Anyway, I'm headed home; full trip debriefing to come in a day or two, with jetlag and added pictures!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Karl took pix, so if he sends 'em I'll post them. (Hi, Karl!) (He's sitting ten feet away.)
Heading back to Stockholm tomorrow, then Portland on Sunday. So long, Norrland!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
A profile of Firewater's Tod A
A review of Personal Days by Ed Park (he's funny! go see him read in Portland, Portlanders, and then tell me how it was!)
OK. Back to Arvidsjaur.
(No, I can't pronounce it properly either.)
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
This morning I did brave the weather to check out Atoklimpen. It's a crazy-looking mountain, traditionally a Sami holy place. ("Ato" means "that there" - a mountain too sacred to be named!) There's a little cottage and a grass hut at the foot of the hill. The cottage looks humble but secretly wields massive political power. It was built in the 1920s, back when the nomadic Sami were forbidden to build permanent structures. They were only allowed to live in tents. They built it anyway, and the fight over the cottage eventually changed the law. Hut power!
The place is still used for corralling herds of reindeer; I took a little stroll along a pathway past the cottage, which was low enough to escape the wind and rain, and came across a mini-herd. More baby ones, hopping around. You're supposed to let them graze in peace and not go too close, but from far away the babies looked pretty cute.
Oh! Most exciting news of the entire trip so far, and I almost forgot! Yesterday, I saw a moose. Up close! It trotted across the highway right in front of my car, at a leisurely pace (but still too fast for me to pull out my stupid camera in time). I think it was a girl: no antlers. It glanced over at me on its way by, then disappeared into these woods:
P.S. A moose! It was not an elk! Sweden gets confused re moose and elk, partly I guess because "moose" translates as "elj" (because I guess moose are called elk in Britain?). Which makes me confused, too. But dang it, I know what I saw. Moose!
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Oh, Swedish beer! How yucky and unbeerlike thou art. Sigh. I bought a can of it at the grocery store (and already the Swedes among you are wailing, "But that's not real beer!" I know, you're supposed to get the good stuff at System Bolaget, but this is regular old Carlsberg 3.5% beer, it should be beer, like I'd have at home, except it has extra flavor of "ew") this afternoon to go with my sandwich for dinner. I'm staying in a pretty little farmhouse in Järvsjö, because I didn't feel like staying in Hudiksvall ("Happy Hudik!" it's called), and because I have a looooong way to drive tomorrow so figured I'd get a head start. I didn't know if this place would be open (turns out it's always open, the guy said, even when he's not around, his neighbors let you in and you leave your money under the pillow in the morning - tooth-fairy honor system) so I stopped for supplies just in case it was going to be a picnic-and-nap-in-the-car night. No worries there. I'm in a big red wooden barnlike house, in a room with one of only two double beds I've ever seen in Sweden (the other is in the room across the hall - usually they're just two teeny beds lined up), with french doors that open onto a little deck that overlooks a wide green river valley dotted with pretty red houses.
Oh, and below the deck there's an immaculate garden surrounded by a tiny red picket fence. Lilacs at the corners. Come on, Sweden. Let up a little.
Yesterday*, in Gävle, which rhymes with a Swedish cussword, for the first time ever I watched the MotoGP while in Europe! (On TV.) It was totally weird. First, I was the ONLY person watching - possibly the only one in all of Sweden; the bar was the only bar in town that seemed to have any televisions at all, which normally would please me. This bar is part of an awful chain called O'Leary's that I tried to eradicate from the previous edition for its pure cheesy obviousness (it would be like reviewing Denny's, except O'Leary'ses are easier to find). But I guess it has its purpose. On the Sunday of the GP race in Mugello, the Gävle O'Leary's opened at 2pm. The race started at 2pm. I waited around the corner until 2:01pm, all casual, then went in, probably looking like I had to pee. The barmaid was sort of mean, but the Hives guitarist in the kitchen understood "motorcycle race" (I don't know the Swedish for race! I know track, but that didn't help), and he knew which channel to put on. I bought a beer and they left me alone. Yeay! But it was odd watching the action without any skreeky boy sound effects around. The silence of the bar made me feel like I had to be quiet, too.
The volume on the TV was up, at least. Hearing the broadcasters in Swedish was funny but sort of disappointing; they never sounded excited about anything. At most, they'd go "oj" (pronounced "oi!" or "oy!" depending) at the really dramatic moments. It took them almost a whole minute to replay Rossi's maneuver into the lead. But there was a better than usual focus on the mid-pack battles. And there was only one commercial break, and all of the commercials in it were motorcycle-related (no Harleys). After the race, you got to see way more of the post-race shenanigans than we normally get. It in fact takes ages for the press conference to come on, because you see everything in real time: riding back to the pits dodging crazed fans, giving and receiving high fives, spraying the champagne, all that. When Rossi and Pedrosa did their mother-tongue speeches, a translater did a voiceover in Swedish. Not as sexy.
* actually a week ago!
OK, now it's Tuesday night. I'm at a hostel in Tänndalen. (I'm not calling them youth hostels anymore. Most people in them are even older than I am. In Swedish they're called "wanderers' homes," which I think sounds nice.) My view through the bedroom window today is almost an exact copy of one of my grandfather's paintings. (A specific one.) Slopy brown hills mottled with leftover snow. In front of that, trees for miles. I think I'm looking at Norway; will check the map later. Since I arrived in Tänndalen, three people have asked me if I was going to Norway, their eyes full of hope and yearning, as if Norway were some mythical beauty forbidden to them. (But they're so close! They could just go!) I'm going eventually, I tell them. (It seemed heartless to admit I'd popped in for five minutes last week.)
Update: Now I'm in Åre. It's a ski-resort town, completely abandoned except for a few dedicated mountain bikers. (This is the kind of mountain biking that requires a dirtbike helmet, knee pads and shinguards; you ride up the ski lift carrying your sturdy little bike, then you ride down at insane speeds on these twisty little tracks full of obstacles like sideways bridges and steeply pitched boulder fields. I've never seen the likes of it before.) Hostel bedroom window has yet another staggering view: trees, mountains, occasional cottages, Icelandic ponies arranged on the green green grass. Today is Sweden's National Day: June 6. It means that on the radio, they play only Swedish music; also, almost everything useful is closed. Same as July 4th in Amurrka, pretty much: listless people sit in their yards on plastic chairs, turning pink, eating and drinking things they never otherwise would, in appalling amounts.
Yesterday was even better. I woke up in Östersund (where the sea monster lives! allegedly) at 7am or so to the sound of inebriated college-aged people dancing in the backs of huge trucks while being driven around the city. It's not something you hear every day, so I had to peek outside and make sure that's what it was. Yep. Traditional Swedish graduation ritual. Loud!
By the time I'd showered and eaten breakfast, dozens of the sad pale creatures were collapsing in little patches of shade from heat exhaustion and too many alcopops. And in bikinis, too!
Anyway. From Åre, I drove to a teensy little hostel in the village of Björkvatten (hard to find on the map - gravel road, etc). This route led me through - yes! - Norway. Instantly, a guy passed me like I was standing still. (He didn't give me the thumbs-up I'm used to getting when this happens. Strange.) The pavement improved, and the house/church dynamic shifted: red church, white houses. Also, SPE, the mountains were definitely cuter.
Photos coming up.
Photos coming up.
Björkvatten's hostel was abandoned when I got there. A note on the door said (I think), "Welcome! Cyclist to Rm 3. Rooms free! Come back later." The grammar eluded me and I couldn't tell if that meant I should come back later or the warden would be coming back later. (On reflection, it clearly meant the warden, but I was tired.) The door was unlocked, which meant I knew I had a place to sleep regardless, so I relaxed, sat at the picnic table on the lawn and read for a while. The cyclist showed up. No warden. Eventually I just picked out a bed; the cyclist reported that the warden showed up at thirteen minutes past one a.m., but I heard nothing. She was there when I woke up, though, so I got the world's tiniest cup of coffee before hitting the road again.
More Norway! This was the most extreme example yet of its superiority: Sweden, gravel road, major potholes, rickety houses. Cross the border, and voila, buttery pavement shaped as if specifically for motorcycles. (I highlighted it on the map!) I actually drove for about 5km down the wrong road just because it was such a perfect road. (Also because I missed the turn.)
Later I went a km or two out of my way to pass through a place called Kyklingvattnet: "chicken water." Mysterious! Saw it on the map and had to investigate. Turned out to be a pair of scraggly-looking houses. No chickens in sight. Hmm.
Also had my first reindeer sighting of the trip! It was right around the Stenenjokk mine, in a landscape that looks totally fake, like some crazy George Lucas planet. (Again, pics coming soon.) The reindeer were a little too far off to photograph, but it was a huge herd, and there were baby ones. Aww.
This is a very Twilight Zone time to be traveling in Sweden. Tourist season doesn't start until Midsummer ("right now everyone is at home in their gardens," one guy told me). Everything I drive past is closed. But it's so warm and sunny out that it's hard to believe nothing is going on. The weather says "summer" but the calendar says "hibernate." If Sweden were a bear it would be very grouchy right now. Meanwhile, museums are closed, roads are under construction, the hostels have dust bunnies. Gangs of snowmobiles loiter in people's yards, totally bored, nothing to do in this weather.
I'm now in a hostel in Saxnäs. Just ate my first hot meal in recent memory, not counting one grillad korv in Ljusdal. (I haven't seen an open grocery store for miles - Swedish miles! - and I ran out of supplies yesterday. Hungry Becky!) Tomorrow: Tärnaby, where the hostel isn't open yet but a new-ish B&B place is waiting for me. Onward!
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
Here are some of those pictures I promised you:
^ The morksuggan! It's saying, "Keep Rattvik clean." And implying, "Or else."
^ Cat shaved like a poodle. How did they get it to sit still for this?
^ All of the houses are cute. (This one's cheating; it's historic. But still.)
^ See? Normal house, totally cute. Look at the tiny, tiny hut in the middle. Aww.
^ Even the hotdog stands are cute.
^ Cute bike.
^ One of my lunch stops.
^ A bear!
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Notes of scale:
40 Swedish kronor = about 7 American dollars
cost of tank of gas = 400 kronor
tanks burned through so far = 3 (it was full when I started)
kilometers driven = 1551
kilometers left to drive = untold zillions (I've really barely started)
where I'm sleeping tonight = Rättvik
where I'm sleeping tomorrow night = Sälen
cans of RedBull consumed = only 3!
What do people who aren't guidebook writers do when they're on vacation?
Have realized I generally dislike exploring cities and towns of medium size. You have to go through them too quickly to be able to perceive any of their personality, which makes it seem like they have none. I have to take particularly excellent notes in medium-size towns because the second I leave, I forget everything about them. Right now, for example, I can't remember one single thing about Karlstad, except for its cool name. I'm not sure if it was Sunne or Sala whose main square was a parking lot. Wait, no, was it Askelsund...? I mean, these are places I've visited within the past week! But there are so many of them. And after about half a dozen they start to blur and smudge and fade. If I drove back through Sala or Sunne or Askelsund now it might look familiar or, equally imaginable, it might no longer exist at all.
Not to be completely solipsistic.
(I guess that's redundant.)
Anyway, Rättvik left an impression on me; I remembered it from last time. It's tiny, sleepy. Can't remember where I stayed, though - probably a campsite along the way, or maybe this was one of those nights when I slept in my car. But I remembered the long bridge and the ace konditori and the gang of feral kids hanging around the train station.
I hadn't realized until yesterday that it is also the home of one of my favorite critters, the Mörksuggan. Hard to translate. It's something like 'dark sow' but that name isn't cute enough to describe the critter's rotund, fuzzy-tailed, pointy-eared, ghoul-eyed darlingness. It's a little wooden carving thingie, painted black. It rocks gently on its little pointed feet. Margo has one. They look sort of like Moomins. Anyway! Apparently the artist was a local, and the library had a big exhibit about him. He was primarily a painter, and did some things that I believe were etchings, but none of us could come up with the precise word in English, and now I've forgotten the Swedish word (it's upstairs on a note). Forgot his name, too, but I bought a book about him, in Swedish, and the three librarians attending to me were so pleased that a stranger had exhibited interest, they gave me another book ("a gift from the foundation"). They were really excited. I was, too, enough to subject them to my poor, crude Swedish. Which I guess they dug, bless them.
Anyway. Still no wifi, but - pictures of mörksuggarna to come, along with, of course, the shaved cat, some caged bears, and many adorable (but totally unaffecting) pastoral country scenes. Stay alert.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Every time I come to Sweden, especially in spring, I realize I'd forgotten how incredibly pretty the landscape is. Everything is ludicrously green, and practically all the buildings are either cute and red or cute and vanilla or, in the cities, cute and tan. The cuteness is overwhelming. There's also a very particular feel to being here, something to do with the humidity plus the uniformly soft smell of the handsoap...I know that sounds odd, but it's true. (They use the same handsoap in every public restroom in Sweden, plus in my grandmother's house.)
This afternoon I drove through the town of Film. One-word review: picturesque! Seemed wrong to take a photo, though; all I have is a digital.
Also saw a cat shaved like a poodle.
Details and photos coming up.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Meanwhile...here's WV's playlist on the New York Times book blog.
Also, check out this sort of funny/creepy thing I found the other day: a blog post in which someone psychoanalyzes my review of WV's novel The Motel Life.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
The City in Crimson Cloak
by Asli Erdogan
Translated by Amy Spangler
People fend off death in all kinds of ways, usually after they've done their best to court it. Take for example Asli Erdogan's heroine, Ozgur, a stubborn Turkish girl who throws herself into the slums of Rio de Janeiro and refuses to leave, though she knows the city will kill her.
We know it, too. The novel introduces us to Ozgur on the last day of her life, but even if it didn't say so on the cover, you'd be able to guess from the fever-dream intensity of her language that this girl is not long for the world. Erdogan packs her small novel with sensuous, hypnotic and hyperrealistic evocations of Rio -- squalor, heat, paranoia, drugs, noise, corpse-lined streets -- that make Ozgur's dark attachment to the city convincing. She hates the place, but she's transfixed. The fragmented story never clearly explains why she's there to begin with, but one thing you know right away is that she's not the kind of girl to walk away from a fight. And in Rio she finds herself an epic battleground and a gargantuan foe.
Ignoring her mother's long-distance pleas to come home, Ozgur lurks in her spartan room, smoking, fuming and writing. She's out of money, and she's lost touch with her friends. She's an angry girl alone in a dangerous city. Going home would be too easy. Worse, it would be a concession to the rules, an implicit acknowledgement that young girls should behave themselves, that certain places are simply unlivable, that there's no point in struggling against the way things are. Instead, with a thin notebook as her only weapon, Ozgur sets out to tame the city, to remake it according to her own vision. The novel she is writing serves as correction, accusation and lament.
"I wrote," Ozgur explains, "because I could find no other cover, no other protection against death in this city which puts a value on human life of ten to four hundred dollars per head."
The book is short but not slight. Ozgur/Erdogan writes as if she wants to grab the reader by the collar, shake him awake and then slam his face into each metaphor to make sure he gets it. Sometimes she almost loses control of language: "The violence that had grown in her heart like a stalagmite ever since she'd begun to live in this city frequently took over the reins to her being," she writes early on in the book. But the mixed metaphor actually fits here -- in a city as physically and spiritually chaotic as Erdogan's Rio, you can believe that a geological feature might seize the reins and drive a person headlong into disaster.
The stories Ozgur records in her notebook are, she tells us, "just phenomena that I've selected to replace reality, lies to lick my wounds... A few glimmering twitches in an ocean of darkness. Tremulous, plain, enchanted..."
Before long, fiction ripens into prophecy: the things she describes begin happening to her. Ozgur started writing in order to tame the city, but inevitably, the city takes over. Erdogan, a Turkish human-rights activist who has served on the PEN American Center's Writers in Prison Committee, might not have intended her second novel to be an allegory for the creative struggle, but reading it that way is no stretch.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Mmm. I just ate a tiny, tiny slice of salami that contained:
- 90 billion milligrams cholesterol
- 40 pounds sodium
- 875 hectares fat
- 1 pinch arsenic
Which for some reason leads me to wonder: when people invented the term "heart attack," did they intend it to mean an attack upon the heart, or by the heart? Like, was it understood to be some form of revenge? Just wondering...idle curiosity....
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
What’s the worst thing about writing guidebooks?
For me, it’s the fact that as a writer you are set up to be a hack. Sure you can drive yourself insane over doing all of the research and writing and you can take on a few thousand dollars’ worth of personal debt to get close to researching everything, but there is only so much that someone can cover and cover honestly—especially over and over again if it’s your career.
And the best thing?
The research stage is never dull. That’s not to say that it’s all good times, exotic cocktails and memorable sunsets, but you do get accustomed to an extremely high level of stimulus in daily life. For me, at least, it became an addiction. I think that’s what really brings the writers back time and time again. However, like any addiction, it is painful when you are without it and, in this case, must spend the following months in solitude, typing up reviews in templates. After my first book, a fellow guidebook writer confided, “I always forget how painful it was to write the last book just in time to sign on for a new one.”
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Friday, April 04, 2008
Lagom är bäst
Lagom is a Swedish word that doesn't have an exact equivalent in English. Like ordning och reda, it encapsulates a philosophy. Lagom has to do with balance and moderation - roughly speaking, it means 'not too little, not too much, but just enough.' But it doesn't carry the sense of restraint or deprivation that a similar word in English might. To understand the idea of lagom, one has to realize that excess is undesirable, that 'just enough' is the perfect amount and that nobody in his or her right mind would ever want more than the lagom amount of anything, whether it's money, snaps or butter on their hardbread. Under the darkest possible view of lagom, one might infer that Sweden strives for mediocrity, that ambition is selfish and normalcy is success. But for the most part lagom simply implies a distaste for overindulgence and greed, an appreciation for balance in life, and an urge to maintain equilibrium in all things. Exaggerating the definition of lagom, after all, wouldn't really be lagom.
Stockholm runs like a well-oiled machine. Public buses are clean and go everywhere, including late at night, and are never off-schedule by more than a minute or two. Same goes for the subway (Tunnelbana). There's a certain amount of collective agreement about the proper order in which things should happen that tends to keep the city running smoothly, at least for the most part.
It's also a society that emphasizes efficient use of resources. Environmentally friendly practices have been built into the city's infrastructure to the point that recycling is almost effortless. Locally grown produce, fish and game are relatively accessible and used whenever possible. Hotels and youth hostels provide sorting bins for guests' garbage. It's an expensive city, so waste of resources holds little appeal on a practical level. And Stockholm's famously clear water is such a visible and important element of the city's beauty that ecologically sound behavior makes perfect sense.
But there's an interesting dark side to this characteristic Swedish trait of conserving resources and behaving efficiently. Part of Stockholmers' reputation for chilliness toward strangers - sometimes even borderline rudeness - may be linked to their fondness for efficiency. People don't tend to waste a lot of time on social courtesies. Visitors from other countries often mention being taken aback by this. Swedes don't typically chat with strangers on the bus, for example, or apologize if they bump into someone on the street. But this restrained attitude isn't intended as rudeness. More likely it's based on a realization that deep friendships are, in fact, seldom formed with random passersby asking for directions or the person who happens to sit next to you on the bus.
One related theory argues that land-partition reforms beginning in the late 18th century ended up destroying village communities, leaving the Swedish people with a sense of isolation and self-reliance. This is reflected in such oft-cited proverbs as 'Alone is strong.' Swedes also tend to resist owing each other favors; situations that might produce indebtedness, such as buying rounds in a bar, are usually avoided. It may be a mostly socialist country, but in certain aspects it's every man for himself.
Ordning och Reda
It's hard to spend much time in Stockholm without hearing this phrase, the ubiquitous Swedish expression that translates roughly as "order and method" or "order and organizaton." Even if you don't hear it, you're bound to leave with some understanding of what it means. Ordning och reda practically defines the typical Swedish personality and way of life. Much more than just an expression, it's a neat and tidy three-word philosophy that most people apply to their everyday lives without even thinking about it. The basic idea is "a place for everything and everything in its place," but the concept extends far beyond mere objects. In the home, ordning och reda translates to a noticeable lack of clutter. Shoes are neatly arranged by the door, furnishings are sparse, and anything untidy is hidden away. But in a larger sense, when applied to the outside world, it refers to the proper way in which things ought to happen.
Get a Queue
One excellent example of ordning och reda is the queue system. Stockholmers line up for everything. There are places in the city where it's perfectly normal to see people standing in line in order to take a number from the queue machine so they can stand in line. The worst offense anyone can commit on Swedish soil is to jump the queue, particularly if you happen to be shopping at System Bolaget, the state-run liquor store. Stockholmers themselves will elbow past little old ladies on their way to take a number from the machine, but once they have it, the pecking order is written into the heavens and cannot be altered. (It can, however, be sold for profit; travelers have reported seeing early birds hit the queue-number machines as soon as a business opens in the morning, then sell their places in line to people in a hurry.) No matter what sort of business you hope to conduct in Stockholm, the first thing you should always do is look for the queue machine and take a number.
Writing on the Wall
Even Prince Eugen scribbled on walls; the painter prince's frescoes grace City Hall (Stadshuset). Graffiti in general hasn't reached quite that level of government approval, but some of Stockholm's most provocative underground artists have become local heroes. The best-known among them is Akay, whose work with graffiti and poster art evolved into larger projects, like setting up a miniature Swedish summer house (complete with picket fence and laundry line) on a traffic island between two major highways. His efforts to reclaim public space for the public, using guerrilla branding techniques that promote an idea without actually selling anything, have won Akay international fame and appreciation.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
Just tonight, I think maybe, For a Few Dollars More might be inching its way ahead of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. I mean, come on, it has Klaus Kinski in it. More twitching per second than has ever been captured on film before or since. It has also the toothless, rubber-lower-jaw old guy who is always, always a railridin' hobo, here playing an old-timer who's against trains. It has the world's most excellent (what do you call it?) footprint-off/bitch-slap combo. It has Eastwood, the tramp, shamelessly courting both Angel Eyes and Indio. And it has that eternal cigarillo, resourcefulness, manliness, a shield, just long enough to fit beneath the brim of his hat when it rains - a quality I love beyond reason and that, I admit, I may have mentioned before.
Anyhow. The first time I saw this film was during the Grindhouse Film Fest in Portland - sitting by the inimitable Sam Dodge Soule III - and his pal Dicky Dahl, whose name appears in the editing credits on the new Gus Van Sant film, Paranoid Park, about which more later - and when I saw it then, the film was HUGE but very, very pink. Smelled of vinegar at fifty paces. Not terribly macho I guess, but that kind of pink is easy to overlook once you get into it, and considering the grindhouseyness of it all.
Well, I don't know which I like better, when you get down to it. Still got a crush on Eli Wallach (the Ugly), but Indio is so sexy...and he's almost as hot in A Fistful of Dollars, which is pretty sweet but lacks the balls-out, fists-in-the-air glory of the second film, in my opinion.
Listen, mister, why'd you choose my place to commit suicide?
Even the Bank of San Francisco isn't that well protected!
I was worried about you. All alone, with ... so many problems to solve ....
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Tonight I spent a couple of hours in the company of this guy:
(skip ahead to the 2-minute mark if it's boring to see him all shirtless)
Yep. Went to a screening of director Christophe Honore's new flim, Love Songs, and both the director and his main muse were there. I wanted to see the film anyway, because I really liked Dans Paris, the only other movie I've seen by Honore. Both movies are sort of eccentrically romantic, and sad, and weird, and of course extremely pretty to look at. Best of all, they're musicals. A lot of the dialogue comes across in these sweet, mumbly, nonchalant little songs, and something about the silliness of it (and, admittedly, the fact that everything sounds good in French) rescues all the precarious moments from ever seeming overwrought. So, as I said, I wanted to see the film anyway. But I also wanted to see Louis Garrel, because I wanted to find out if it's really possible for someone to look like that. And I'm sorry to report that it is. Alas. I'm ruined for life.
(He was also funny; during Q&A he referred to himself as a sex toy, and when some girl in the audience asked him, incredibly, to "sing for us," he amended his earlier statement to sex toy and marionette.) (But he sang anyway. Badly, on purpose.)
On a side note, I've decided that the French have to be beautiful, because otherwise they'd be invisible against a city like Paris. Man, that town looks good in anything.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The newest edition of the Seattle guidebook hit shelves recently, I'm told (haven't seen it yet, can't be blamed, folks, especially not for any mistakes you might find while say casually flipping through the color map section for example, not that you'll find any mind you), and it includes a nifty new feature: "Local Voices." Interviews with people who actually live in the city the guide is about. Yep. Some of mine didn't make the cut -- too dull for the Mid-Life Global Nomad demographic, I reckon. Bit flimsy on the service-journalism angle, too -- where to shop and eat and so forth. No, that's mean; really they just re-did the page count, and some of my intarviews didn't fit. Anyway. Here is one. Technically it's owned by LP, since I sold it to them for cash money, but I don't think they'll mind if the four of you who read this blog get a look at it. Enjoy:
Teh Lord Teh, IT consultant
A mild-mannered tech consultant by day, the young computer genius and weapons collector known as Teh Lr0d Teh represents Seattle's fringe culture. He hangs out at Teh Wetspot (www.wetspot.org), a BDSM community center in Lower Queen Anne. He is also a compelling argument in the case against the stressful, mind-degrading nature of work in the tech industry.
This interview was conducted entirely online. Please excuse the prelude:
'i hear lonely plan8 iz totally luztig 4 j00r bl00t. if tehy dont tap teh l33t-language audience they will go out of business. so you must turn to l-r0d t3h 2 save teh publih8ion. have you written anything about teh prevalence of kink sess in seattlul? note to teh editors: PH33R MEIN WRATH.'
What do you do for a living? I’m starting a Megacorporation/Nonprofit/lulz gorganization called 1-800-GOT-MEAT. We collect roadkill and donate it to local hick bigots for only a nominal cost. I get to play with meat all day and watch hicks salivate at gore. And I get to help the children - always my primary motivation in lyfe.
How long have you lived in Seattle? It depends on your definition of 'lived.' A week ago I thought to unleash the unifying power of roadkill, and since then I’ve felt exhilarated, overflowing with constant spiritual and erectile arousal. I’d say that I hadn’t really lived since then. So, a week.
What neighborhood do you live in? i just moved 2 seattlul proper (i live on teh wetspot'z bondage bed)
What's the best thing about your neighborhood? An overabundance of Ewok meat
How has the city changed since you moved there, and what do you think it will be like in five years? There were less Slaytanic cults when I moved here in 2000 BCE, but now they openly lust for blood. This is good for business, and my capital coffers have been overflowing. In 5 years I predict that ALL LIFE ENDS.
Any tourist traps that are worthwhile? There are several traps in my backyard that would work on tourists just fine. And if by worthwhile you mean beneficial for the children, then yes.
Friday, February 22, 2008
It's a story about getting old and going straight, selling out to the Man and feeling crappy about it but doing it anyway because the world is moving on and you're too worn out to keep fighting. Salty old gunslinger Pat Garrett takes a job as sheriff, and the first thing he has to do -- the thing they hired him for -- is to bring down his pal Billy the Kid. The whole movie's a vast, gorgeous, gritty, epic love poem to the crumbling myths and disappearing rawness of the west; if you don't believe me try watching Slim Pickens' slow, gutshot walk to die at creekside without getting choked up.
It also has one of the best mini-odes to a willing dame ever grunted by a greasy barkeep:
"She got a ass on her ... like a forty dollar cow ... and a tit ... I'd like to see that thing filled with tequila."
Like I said. Poetry.
Pet peeves for today:
I hate it when people say things like "one of our finest novelists," or "among our best young actors," as if they are part of some mysterious corporation that owns the talent and creativity of artistic types. Annoying.
John Graham hates it when, every time someone looks through binoculars in the movies or on TV, the edges of the screen are blacked in to form the shape of two conjoined circles, like the eyeholes in a pair of binoculars. Think about it. When you look through binoculars, do you see the view in two conjoined circles? No, you don't. Through the magic of technology, you see it just as you would without the binocs, only closer. Amazing! (I'm watching the Oscars right now and a goofy little montage just reminded me of that.)
Also, straight from the supermarket checkout-line tabloids: I hereby ban the suddenly ubiquitous and totally barfy use of the term "bump" for preggy bellies. So disgusting.
Speaking of checkout-line tabloids, another outrage:
Here's the cover of the Feb 21 issue of Rolling Stone. Headline: "Britney Spears: Inside an American Tragedy." Hmm. Is Britney tragic, really?
And then, in tiny print over to the side, stuck between SHERYL CROW and ZEP TOUR UPDATE: "Heath Ledger." Yes...ever so much less tragic a loss than Britney's pop starlet career. (I mean, I know it's a music magazine, but still.)
Well, getting back to the realm of the indisputable: A very smart fellow recently gave me a list of Dylan songs I need to get in order to further my enlightenment. Now I know this may sound crazy, but I'm told you can "download" songs of music from the World Wide Web these days. Can this be true? I've had no luck with it so far. If any of you clever young people out there can tell me how to do it, I'd be much obliged.