Posts Tagged ‘EU’

After hanging out exclusively with goats for a week on the very off-season island of Santorini, one day I wondered how I would react if one of them began to like me as more than a friend.  Initially shrugging off the thought of something so unlikely, I found myself more wrapped up in it as the lonely days progressed.  Finally I decided to sit down and write this power ballad, sifting through my own feelings and hopefully explaining them to the amorous ungulate.

I call it “Bleating Heart.”

 

Oowee girl. 

 

Laughing in the fields with mouthfuls of oats

You were my favorite goat

Spring days spent running back and forth

The me of then did not yet know

 

I’m not sure how to break it to you

But I just came to play with you

And I really don’t mean to gloat

To me you’re just a goat

 

I mean, sure I think you’re cute and all

But it’s not worth the life I’d give up

Love for a small-town grazer

Me, out there a world player

 

I’m not about to let you convince me to

Even though your friends thought I’d want it too

So I really think you should know

To me you’re just a goat

 

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I guess it would be good to establish the scene.


I’m sitting in a freezing tent overlooking Rome’s Tiber River.  The time is hovering around 1:00 AM.  It has been a drizzly day, a rainy week, and a boozy binge.  Wine is cheap in Italy, but its quality is not.


I’ve been going at this trip for three months now.  Grazing glaciers, inside ruins, under seas, over seas, through valleys, above mountains, 12,000 kilometers by rail, boat, bus, bike, plane and foot–this is the easy part of my plan.  I never, ever know where I will be two days from the current day.  I usually don’t know what day of the week it is.  Sometimes I’ve had to sleep in a different place every night.  I’ve woken up once and forgotten which country I was in.  People I meet along the way ask me what my plans are, where I’m going, or how long I’m going to do this.  I just don’t know.  There is no hint in my answer as to whether this is a good or bad deal; it is the deal, and I neither mind it nor relish it.  I appreciate the rush of cultures and the chance it provides to meet the world on my own terms.  I regret the missed opportunities to stay and learn more.  I am very fortunate.  I am whittling away mispent youth.  I am happy.  I am happy.


They ask me if I’m traveling alone.  The most common question.  They look at my backpack and ask.  Well, yeah, I am.  Of course.  Except that I’m not.  Physically, yes, but I’m connected with friends old and new, the people I’ve known and the people I’m coming to know.  I’m always missing people.  The pattern: I meet people, get to know them, escalate a friendship, we have fun, maybe some mutual epiphanies or two, then abruptly separate.  This trip is supposed to help me connect with people, and every day, it is.  But I guess I never stopped to think for how long I could be connected.


Then there’s Caligula.  They always ask me about Caligula.  I enthusiastically explain that he’s a 1979 historical pornography.  They invariably knod their heads in silence.   It makes me think I’m the only person who can appreciate Caligula for who he is.

 

 

“This place has really gone to shit.”

 


I stand in front of ruins, or, if I’m lucky enough, in them.  I think about the people who used to stand and walk and talk where I am now, and how much we would have in common.  But that’s just the effect of ruins: by definition they evoke thoughts of the past and a future without us in which everything we’ve ever known will have similarly eroded.  I think about the people I’ve met and I wonder what they’re doing right at that moment.


Like now, my host in Reykjavik.  What’s she doing?  Scuba diving?  She was an instructor.  Or Ewen in Dunoon?  He fucked up his leg.  Probably having sex with sheep.  Taro in dirty Wales?  Could be watching Ewen’s sheep sex via camchat.  Kristina in London?  Reading would be a good guess.  Friends from Amsterdam?  Back to real life.  And the Erasmus students, my God, the students from Brno!  They’re probably just getting really drunk or dancing, but definitely not dying anywhere.  The Japanese friends I met in Prague?  Back in Japan, but doing what?  Karaoke?  And this one other guy who got banned from Europe.  Not any specific country, but Europe.  The whole thing.  How much of a badass do you have to be to get blacklisted from an entire continent?  Apparently, as much of one as he was.  The Slovenian who designed a spaceship powered by bearshit and hosted me for a week?  Moving on to the building phase?  I wonder.  All these things, I wonder while I wander.


It’s freezing in this tent.  I don’t know why I thought this might be a good idea.  The tent, I mean.  I also don’t know why I wrote this out, but then again, I still don’t know where I’ll even be tomorrow.  Taking a cheap train south, but then what?  I’m running out of Europe; only Greece is left.  I have to climb Mt. Olympus in a Kratos costume and topple Zeus before I start to enter the long string of countries I couldn’t even place on a map.  The main part of the trip.  The long part.  Then, finally, at the end where these sorts of things tend to be, is the goal.


And I wonder what will happen then.

 

A hurried, consonant-heavy language with no time for vowels, the newborn Czech Republic prudently decided to adopt its namesake language in 1993.  Pronounced “Czech me out” by clever tourists who somehow have never been tapped as poet laureate, Czech is the native tongue of some 13 million people worldwide.  With an Omega-level mutant ability to form entirely vowel-less sentences like “plch pln skvrn prch skrz drn prv zhlt čtvrt hrst zrn” (“a doormouse full of stains escaped through grass after first eating a quarter-handful of grain”), it’s surprising that the language hasn’t just given up on phonemes all together.  Here are the seven phrases and words that will help me to survive and reproduce in the Czech Republic, the ninth country on my trip around the world.

 

1. Hello/Hi.      “Dobrý den/Ahoj.”      [DOH-bree dehn/ah-HOY]

This “hello” can be used when entering stores or approaching people on the streets.

2. Yes/No.     “Ano/Ne.”     [AH-no/neh]

A bi-syllabled “yes.” 

3. Do you speak English?     “Mluvíte anglicky?”     [MLOO-vee-te AHN-glee-skay?]

Don’t expect the locals to shoulder the entire burden.

4. Where is…?     “Kde je…?”     [kday yah…?]

Very useful in Prague, full as it is with fairytale winding cobblestone roads.

5. How much?      “Kolik to stojí?”      [ko-lick toh sto-yi?]

Cheap.  It’s cheap; no need to ask.

6. Delicious!      “Lahodný!”      [lah-hod-nee]

Czech food is emphasizes meaty meals, with pork the most likely meat on your plate.

7. Thank you.      “Děkuji.”      [dyeh-ku-yi]

You’ve just been helped and/or fed. Congratulate your partner on becoming a bit more internationalized. If you are carrying prize ribbons or certificates of achievement, give one to your new friend.

 

Notable customs:

  • Per capita, Czech people consume more beer than anyone else in the world, outclassing such luminaries as the Irish, the Germans, and John Belushi.
  • Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, to a similar extent that Spanish and Portuguese speakers can understand each other’s language.
  • Franz Kafka lived and wrote in Prague, but his stories aren’t exactly a reflection on the rest of the Czech literary tradition.

 

But if you wake up one morning and find yourself transformed into a giant insect, you might as well just run with it.

 

Honorable mentions:

I don’t understand.      “Nerozumín.”     [neh-ro-zou-meen]

Fetch! (inf., to a dog)     “Aport!”     [AH-port!]

Good dog! (inf., to a dog)     “Hodnej!”     [HOHD-nay!]

 

With a gentic makeup rivaling that of the Saiyans, history has shown that when wounded Germans are provided time to heal, they only reappear stronger than ever.  Alternatively beaten by and beating back threats from within and without across the centuries, Germany is today firmly on the crest of its sinusoidal historical wave.  The German economy is by far the most robust in Europe, and at 5th overall in the world, Germans have ample reason to be proud: Their country is the largest exporter of goods in the world, German is the most common first language in Europe, and just to really shove everyone’s faces in it, they even recycle more than almost anyone else.  The rapid ascent of Germany is all the more remarkable since the unified nation of Germany has only existed since 1990, following the successful political fusion dance of Cold War East and West.

With the rise of modern Germany in the late 19th century and its rapid military victories over France, a hopelessly antagonistic philosopher riding a historical crest and later an imprisoned young art student most decidedly in the trough both looked around at all of the history they were seeing and decided to sit down, count to ten, and write about how it made them feel.  Rather than discarding these scraps of internal monologue faster than you can say “anger management,” they chose instead to publish their work and change the entire world.  Each in their own way came to believe in the notion of a super race, which, since we’re talking myths here, might as well be absurdly powerful with blonde hair and blue eyes.

 

A typical German family portrait.

 

One of the pitfalls of this gated community of Übermensch was the inherent exclusivity of it; as is the case with treehouse clubs, the CIA, and the Troll Book Club, not everyone could be a member.  The result was the most destructive war humanity has ever waged on itself, part and parcel a pattern of streamlined, mechanized genocide.  In the post-War era, Germans have taken great strides toward promoting peace, refusing to mire themselves in a past that most everyone would rather forget.  The Nuremburg Trials held Nazi officers accountable for war crimes; the Nazi flag and party remain illegal.  When terrorists stormed the Israeli athletes’ rooms during the 1972 Munich Olympics, high-ranking German ministers reportedly offered their own lives to exchange places with the Israeli athletes.  Even the previously unthinkable has happened: a friendship and friendly rivalry has blossomed with France, now Germany’s largest trading partner.  Germany has moved on strongly.  Today, the average German citizen has a power level well over 9000.

 

A German (left) and a Frenchman (right) battle to a stalemate. They would later become unlikely friends.

 

Local Name: Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany)

Language: German

Capital: Berlin (Bonn was the capital of West Germany)

Population: 81,305,856 (all of whom can recite the lyrics to any David Hasselhoff song from memory)

Area: 357,022 km2

Government: Federal republic; elected Chancellor rules and secretly engineers the Clone Wars

Currency: Euro; symbol EUR; €1 = US$1.31 (March 2012)

Economy: World’s 5th largest; Europe’s largest; vehicles; chemicals; international trade; machinery; highly skilled workforce

Notable International Enemies: Ghosts of their past.

 

Featuring the national colors of Germany, the current flag was adopted in 1919 during the Weimar Republic.

 

Famous For: Guzzling beer (2nd largest consumers after the Irish); several famous philosphers and composers; the Autobahn; the Holy Roman Empire; its on-again-off-again brush with European dominance throughout history

Not Famous For: Being the first country to adopt Daylight Savings Time (during WWI); producing some 35% of the world’s wind energy; publishing the first Bible and later jumpstarting the Reformation; being the world’s largest exporter of goods

Obligatory Tourist Detours: Brandenburg Gate; Munich; the Black Forest; Cologne Dome

What US$20 Can Get You: Several plates of currywurst, a sausage/curry hybrid dish; two nights in a hostel

Quick History Recap: Thwarting Roman efforts of annexation in 9 AD, the region east of the Rhine remained a collection of loosely affiliated districts until 1871, when the modern nation-state of Germany was established under Prussian Otto von Bismarck.  Germany’s economy soared, quickly matching that of the industrialized Western European nations, allowing for rampant expansion.  Decades later, the expense of forced war reparations, the unstable Weimar government, and the Great Depression created a fertile political atmosphere for the national socialist party and its young leader, an unsuccessful painter named Adolf Hitler.  The Second World War crippled Germany once again, literally dividing the country for half a century by the Allies and USSR.  Performing a successful fusion dance in 1990, Germany has since become one of the largest economies in the entire world, with a collective power level of just over 3.28 trillion.

 

The most common first language within the European Union, German is spoken by nearly 100,000,000 people.  Not limited to Germany alone, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and tiny Liechtenstein all feature large contingents of German speakers and varying degrees of official state recognition.  With a hefty alphabet just foreign enough to throw umlauts over three–count ’em–THREE vowels, one can only imagine that they must have simply run out of elbow strength by the time their pen reached the letter ß, thereby saving it to be mispronounced in an entirely different manner.  Here are the seven phrases and words that will help me to survive and reproduce in Germany, the eighth country on my trip around the world.

1. Hello.     “Hallo.”     [HAH-loh]

Dutch, German, English–all the same, save for a few scrambled letters.

2. Yes/No.     “Ja/Nein.”     [yah/nine]

Very similar to Dutch, nein?

3. Do you speak English?     “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”     [SRAHK-en zee ANG-lish?]

It works more often than you’d expect.

4. Where is…?     “Wo ist…?”     [voh ist…?]

Now wait a minute–this is just a poor man’s Dutch!

5. How much?     “Wie viel kostet das?”     [vee feel KOS-tet das?]

Uncanny, once again.

6. That tastes good!     “Das schmeckt gut!”     [dahs schmekt goot!]

German food is meaty; vegetarians need not learn this phrase.

7. Thank you.     “Danke.”     [DAHN-kuh]

You’ve just been helped and/or fed. Congratulate your partner on becoming a bit more internationalized. If you are carrying prize ribbons or certificates of achievement, give one to your new friend.

Notable customs:

  • Germans often tip by rounding up the bill, but rarely bill by rounding off the tip.
  • Don’t drink until a toast has been said, and stay away from Heineken, because PABST BLUE RIBBON!


 “Heineken?  Fuck that shit!  PABST BLUE RIBBON.”

Honorable mentions:

Bless you!     “Gesundheit!”     [geh-soond-hait!]

“A cataclysmic downfall or momentous, apocalpytic event!”   “Götterdämmerung!”   [goy-te-deh-me-rung!]

Happy Hanakah!      “Glücklicher Hanukkah!”      [GLOOK-leesh-er hah-na-kah!]

From little Dutch boys plugging their fingers into dikes to lonely Dutchmen putting their fingers into dykes, the Dutch have always been asking for great deluges.  Literally wrested from the ocean itself, 25% of the Netherlands is under sea level, and a full 50% lies less than one meter above that.  In fact, Nederland means “Low Country,” a direct translation of an often deadly geographic quirk that is also serves as the basis for the country’s name in virtually every major Western European language.  A nation known by more names than Sean Combs, the Netherlands/Holland/the Low Countries know that a tulip by any other name will smell just as sweet.

Tulips became popular luxury items in the Netherlands in the early 17th century, a period in which the nation was blossoming into a Golden Age of commerce.  The tulip was considered unique in Europe when it was first imported from Turkey, its distinctive flower a robust saturation of color which in comparison made every other native species look like it had been plucked in Pleasantville.  It was planted in the gardens of the aristocracy, as the flower happened to be well-adapted to the climate of the Low Countries.  In the winter of 1636-37, in active defiance of all logic, the price of tulips skyrocketed.  Typical of this bull market were contracts with exchanges such as 40 tulip bulbs for 100,000 florins; a skilled laborer might earn 150 florins in an entire year.  Buyers purchased futures contracts, intending to re-sell the flowers at profit later, a massive Ponzi scheme that hung precariously upon the notion that a greater fool would ultimately pay the ever-increasing price.  It is worth noting that no actual flowers exchanged hands; these unenforceable contracts were to be fulfilled when the tulips bloomed in the coming spring.  The speculative bubble–the world’s first in a nation that has also provided the world with several other outlets to temporary insanity–eventually became unsustainable, collapsing upon itself by February 1637.

 

“Wagon of Fools” (1637).  The goddess Flora leads entranced Dutch weavers–who had abandoned their looms and invested heavily in the bulbs–to an impoverished burial at sea.  Note: everyone in this painting is also high.

 

Today, with one of the most liberal slate of laws in the entire world, major cities like Amsterdam attract millions of foreign tourists annually, their conservative shackles jangling in the streets long into the night.  While hard drugs are outlawed, softer drugs like wet mushrooms and marijuana are only technically illegal, the legislative loophole of a half-assed Dutch attempt to skirt around international treaties.  To wit: prostitution has been tolerated since the 1200s.  Gay marriage has been legal since 2001.  Euthanasia was legalized in the following year.  Currently, the most divisive and hotly debated social issue in the Dutch Parliament is legistlation that would grant the right to euthanize one’s gay prostitute spouse.  It is expected to pass by general consensus, the norm in Dutch politics.

 

You could probably goad a Dutchman into taking out a second mortage on his windmill to buy a few of these flowers.

 

Amsterdam’s red light district, the world’s crossroads of prostitution and soft drugs, has suffered from a rash of criminal activity that absolutely no one could have been able to predict, ever.  Patrons communicate with the hookers through their windows, the idea being to make the whole ordeal as awkward as a drive-thru fast food experience.

 

Local Name: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (Kingdom of the Netherlands)

Language: Dutch, Frisian; English spoken by most

Capital: Amsterdam; the actual seat of government is at the Hague

Population: 16,731,712 (1180 are windmills, and the rest are thought to be hallucinations)

Area: 41,543 km2

Government: Constitutional monarchy; Queen Beatrix reigns and appoints a Prime Minister following elections 

Currency: Euro; symbol EUR; €1 = US$1.31 (Feb. 2012)

Economy: World’s 16th largest; transportation hub; international finance; international trade (port of Rotterdam is Europe’s largest); world’s 3rd biggest agricultural exporter

Notable International Enemies: Don Quixote; France briefly ruled the Netherlands during the Napoleonic wars; founding member of NATO and the EU

 

The upper red band was originally orange, favorite color of William of Orange (of the House of Orange; hair color decidedly gray).  The orange dye peeled rapidly and was difficult to resolve in hazy seafaring conditions.  The current flag was officially adopted by royal decree in 1937.

 

Famous For: Windmills; red light district; liberal drug policy; a bike ownership rate double that of automobiles; Dutch chocolate; canals; flat landscape; natives Rembrandt and Van Gogh

Not Famous For: Growing the tallest people in the world; the Dutch company Philips, which invented the audio tape, the video tape, the compact disc, and the CD-ROM; having the world’s happiest citizens; engineering the world’s first orange carrots and gin, which was sold as the medicine Jenever in the 16th century;  KLM airlines, the world’s longest-operating commercial airline since 1919; hosting the world’s first full-time stock exchange; discovering Australia and New Zealand; shrewdly trading the nutmeg of Suriname for the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, today known as New York City

Obligatory Tourist Detours: Amsterdam; red light district; a coffee shop; Haarlem; Anne Frank’s secret annex

What US$20 Can Get You: High. Then, about five minutes in the red light district.

Quick History Recap: A major colonial power in the early modern era, the Netherlands colonized much of the world hand-in-hand with rival Western European nations.  Trading approximately US$1000 for the island of Manhattan in 1626, the Dutch patted themselves on the back and thought themselves shrewd businessmen, but not even a decade later, these were the guys taking out loans to buy tulips.  New Amsterdam had been established partly to protect Dutch interests in the beaver trade.  This industry was not just limited to pelts, as another hot commodity was beaver castoreum, a secretion of anal glands that is used by North American beavers to mark territory and by clever Dutch businessmen as a medicine.  After on-and-off wars with England, the Dutch ceded New Amsterdam to the English in return for legal recognition of other Dutch territories that were rich in nutmeg; smart money says it’s because nutmeg can also lead to a hallucinogenic high.  Following a century or two of relative neutrality, the Netherlands has evolved into a highly developed economy and became founding members of both NATO and the EU in the 20th century, a record that’s not too bad for a people who once chugged beaver urine to cure headaches.