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30 September 2005

for blood and ash: killer

one stop remained on the european tour of blood: napoli, italia, home of my grandfather's family. for blood and pompeii, the roman city buried by volcanic ash when vesuvius erupted in 79 ad. for blood and ash: killer. they've all warned me about naples and as with other cities i've filed them all away in my head. given the number of warnings from reliable sources, i decided not to dismiss them entirely even though i believe that most victims are victims for a reason. i would take away those reasons. as the train neared the raining napoli warzone, i checked my equipment and reached into my bag, withdrew a tin of facepaint labeled 'don't fuck with me', and applied a generous portion.

i emerged calmly from the train station into the light rain and paused, a fierce piercing determination firing from my eyes as i scanned the area. the area didn't disappoint. cars and buses charged viciously on streets winding around a square littered with apparently abandoned construction equipment, horns screaming in a frightening frequency frenzy, restrained only by barriers and scrap pieces of metal strewn about in an almost random array of chaos. scooters threaded the larger vehicles in a furious abandon, seemingly unaffected by the obscuring rain. napoli's finest were patroling the sector; all aspects of the questionable were well represented waiting anxiously for someone to walk by with a victim sign taped to their back. and i was standing in the middle of it all acquiring satellites. i'd been fully briefed and the area didn't disappoint.

satellites acquired. the path led straight through the swirling crunching chaos. i knew this moment would come... the napoli street crossing. i'd been training for months... reading and rereading schematics manuals, running drills, spending countless hours in the simulator. but was i prepared? i rehearsed the plan in my mind one last time, summoned up the fire within, raised one foot into the air... and waited for an old lady to cross in front of me. bah! i did no such thing! i stepped right out into that raging traffic and walked deliberately across the street bringing the swirling crunching chaos to a complete screeching halt! [!POW!]

arrival in the hostel. the outer door was unlocked. inner door #1 was unlocked. elevator #1 didn't work. the doors opened, i got in... hit the appropriate button... no response. elevator #2: same thing. i doubted this was a coincidence; i obviously wasn't privy to the mystical secret of the elevators. surely no one actually climbs these stairs on a regular basis. up to floor seven (digression for american readers: the ground floor in european buildings is floor zero, not floor one; thus, to get to floor seven, i had to climb seven flights of stairs, not six like you american pansies). inner door #2 was locked. buzz, open.

let's just count those doors again... and this time let's pretend they were _all_ locked. okay...

1. outer door [dial in code, hostelguy says hello over the intercomm, you say hi, hostelguy buzzes the door open.]

2. walk across a courtyard to inner door #1 [dial in the same code, hostelguy says hello over the intercomm, you say 'uh, yeah, it's me again.', hostelguy buzzes the door open.]

walk up seven flights of stairs after failing to successfully operate both elevators.

3. inner door #2 [you ring a doorbell, this time hostelguy has no intercomm to question who is ringing and must assume it is the person who has rung the two previous times, buzzes the door open.]

okay... three locked doors just to get to the reception. certainly there is a reason for these security measures. i decided to add an extra detachment of recon troops to my private detail. so, where was i?... ah... inner door #2 is open... i enter...

hostelguy enrico greets me warmly. first impression: enrico is supercool and i mean the supercoolest. 'what's the secret to the elevator, enrico?' 'it's coin operated. you have to pay 5 cents to use it.' [slap my forehead] of course. over the course of my conversation with enrico i learn that i'm lucky to have found accomodation in naples tonight... apparently a famous italian singer, gigi d'allesio, is in town giving a free outdoor concert. i arrived right on time. i got the details and planned to hit the concert later that evening. enrico directed me to my room... one floor up behind another locked door. the buzzer for this door was on a small remote control that only worked when pointed upwards at a precise angle and waved wildly from side to side. [click].

during dinner at a restaurant recommended by enrico, a young girl, maybe 9 or 10, walked up to me as i sat at an outside table and started pawing the table and mumbling something in italian. i ignored her for about 15 seconds before the waiter came by and shooed her away.

it was around 1800 when i finished dinner... i wasn't exactly sure when the concert would be starting, but i decided to head over and hang until the music started. after a few wrong turns, i found the piazza and planted myself on the first barrier. it looked like about 500 people had already gathered by the stage. soundchecks finished, the sun set, and more people showed up as i droned away resting on the barrier. i had no clue who gigi d'allesio was or what her music sounded like, but apparently naples took her music seriously... free concert, giant stage, five video screens, giant sound system. this was a big production. more waiting... more people. 1800... 1900... 2000... 2100... hours passed until finally gigi d'allesio made her big entrance to giant applause and much screaming. it was at that moment that i realized that gigi d'allesio was in fact a man and his music was frightfully michael.bolton.ish. yikes. an italian michael bolton singing michael.bolton.ish songs in italian as girls screamed and cried. i turned around for the first time in a few hours and realized that the _entire_ piazza behind me was filled with people [avi video: 3.24 mb]. wow. i'd seen video footage of shows like this but had never attended one. _wow_. i stood there for about a half an hour [avi video: 2.62 mb] before i could no longer deal with gigi bolton and had to split... 'scusi... scusi...' pushing my way through the mob behind me until i finally made it out. wow. cruised back to the hostel and chilled for a few hours before heading to bed.

tomorrow: pompeii.

over the course of the day i saw three vehicular oddities: 01: a scooter driving on the wrong side of the road, horn blaring, the driver wearing an expression of pure annoyance at having to deal with the (bah!) conformists who actually obeyed the most basic of traffic rules. 02: a car driving backwards down the street for far longer than a car should be driving backwards down the street. and 03: my personal favorite: a scooter driver with a mobile phone duct taped to the inside of his helmet, positioned correctly over the ear and mouth to permit conversation as he sped through napoli traffic.

posted by paul at Fri 30 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

29 September 2005

built over the grave

my second and last full day in rome and i took a walking tour in a different country, the vatican city.

the 1000 tour began at 1100 after an hour of transport on city transportation. idaho chris. the bridge of knockoff gucci bags and angels. out of a dream, the shining st. peter's basilica, the rock of the catholic faith, rose out of the ordinary within the welcoming hug of bernini's columns. the queue moved quickly, the guards didn't care that the metal detector beeped when i walked through, and once inside, i stood in awe absorbing all of the wonders of this amazing architectural and artistic achievement. spectacular doesn't begin to describe the building; you must walk inside to understand. built over the grave of st. peter, containing an exhumed pope, michelangelo's pieta, and religious relics. the miracle police nearby.

into the vatican museum and finally to the sistine chapel. again, spectacular doesn't begin to describe it. no words could. the hidden skull.

lamborghini just isn't what it used to be.

later that night, back at the hostel, i met four others from boston and became a local hero when i configured someone's computer to connect to the lan and allow live broadcast of the red sox game in rome.

posted by paul at Thu 29 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

28 September 2005

for what was buried beneath


despite the onset of a sickness no doubt derived from several hostelites in krakow, in my thoughts i was fully charged, if not in my heavy head, exploding with excitement to explore roma, but also exploding with congestion, her heaped with history, mounds of it, the epicenter of latin which i've studied for years, the one perfect language. and i was here in this place that has only been pictures and stories to this point. and now i was in the picture and story, if only a shadow or a word. yes, me. i'd be in italy for eleven days, two of those in rome, far less than i would have liked, but as an american without a visa i'm permitted to stay within the schengen zone for 90 days every 180 days and i'd already been within for 69. the remaining 21 would be split between italy and the netherlands; i'd be meeting matt in amsterdam on 18 october 2005. i think i'm one of the few who knows and respects international law. 'really? no, i think we can stay as long as we want.' wrong.

so two days, i decided to take a walking tour. i wanted _knowledge_. breakfast of bread and hard boiled eggs, a few false starts and then batteries charged, i grabbed a map and was out for a few hours of walking before meeting at the circo massimo.

i do my best to enter a city with a blankness. no expectations, no disappointment. but this was the heart of the empire and i wanted things to be perfect. i wanted clean excavations and signs with explanations, paths and fences and labels and directions, a central clarity, a cleanness. in general, i wanted things _sorted_ _out_. so unrealistic the list of wants, i realize; that's not what i got at all. what i got was a living city filled with thousands of today people living on top of and under and in and on and around, and i pressed on searching in desperation for what was buried beneath. my first destination was the colloseum, a gasp when i saw it and i stopped right there, thousands of years. but walking through the forum area, i could not believe that the entire area wasn't fully excavated and cleaned and studied. it seemed like what had been started had not been finished and at that point i just could not accept any excuse. this was a treasure chest that was waiting to be opened... _right here_... they'd found it and not opened it... they'd only peaked just a little. a heavy sigh, i walked on in disbelief.

at 1400 i met the tour group in the circo massimo, years ago a giant chariot race track, then covered, then uncovered by mussolini. in a city such as rome, i would have given anything for a private tour with a true expert, three full days of walking and details; alas my budget didn't permit such a private tour. enter spring, tour guide from texas, a dual major in italian and theater; i'd have preferred latin and italian history. she related the history of various sites as we walked around and while the content was rich with names and dates and interesting facts, i didn't appreciate her delivery, more of a rehearsed memorized reading [click] than a person transferring what they've learned over years of study. i tried to unfocus on the delivery, waiting for something to jump on, and soon there it was. the modern day roman manhole cover... spqr. _s_enatus _p_opulus_q_ue _r_omanus... see it? more interesting facts came later and after four hours of spring's monologues i felt like i'd learned several new things. the mouth of truth [additional info], mussolini's balcony [older pic from 1944], the dome of the pantheon, open to the air. the most important of what i learned is forgiveness. i learned that modern and ancient rome are completely entangled. the only hope of ever completely retrieving the past is by relocating all of the today people and pumping billions of dollars into archaeology, a virtual impossibility which is really a shame.

all the while i wished i had brushed up on my latin before coming. in fact, i'd wished the same far earlier in my travels. the one perfect language was found throughout all of europe. once i'd been able to read books in latin; unfortunately over the past ten years most of what i'd learned of the language has left me, now barely able to translate a single sentence. i will find it again and the next time i won't lose it.

back at the hostel, i used my sysadmin skills and my ethernet cable (first use) to get my computer on the network. tomorrow, another walking tour, the vatican city.

posted by paul at Wed 28 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

27 September 2005

darkness or no darkness, the darkest

happy birthday brad!

checked out and was out on the street shortly before 1000. mieszko and his dad arrived in the car and we were off back to their apartment.

the breakfast was perfect... omelette, sausage, tomatoes, ham, bread. wow.

before the airport, one more stop... la fragola for warsaw's best gelato. i had lemon, strawberry, and cherry. gigantic flavor.

airport... checked in and said my goodbyes [thank you again!].

poland is one of my new trip highlights. the people were so friendly, the cities were beautiful, and the food was great. i'll definitely be coming back.

two hours from warsaw to rome. arrival in italia at ciampino. a little airport on the edges outside of the circle. bus to the metro and metro to termini; quite possibly the most dirty metro of my travels to this point [see video below], certainly the first in which spraypaint covered the majority of window space to create a tightness of enclosure, the air wet and heavy, i wanted out. now. finally termini, the usual rush for the door, them: god don't let the metro leave with me still on it, me: the anxious mob of children, i hung back and waited and then rushed myself to find the out. at last into the air. i surveyed the scene, acquired satellites, and after one wrong way, i was on track to the yellow hostel.

she didn't have change and seemed overwhelmed; 90 cents in 2 cent coins, blah, she shorted me. 'i gave you 100 euro.' she handed me 30. 'right... two more.' she handed me two more. [CRACK], baby. the elevator could fit two people, no more. i was one and a half with the pack and we had to squeeze in. fifth floor, i unstrapped and unpacked and locked it all away and then went downstairs to meet dave for dinner. in the back in the corner by ourselves we had delicious bruschetta and lasagna washed down with the reddest of wines. had i not been feeling less than myself i would have gone out to explore rome, darkness or no darkness, the darkest, i was _in rome_ and she was calling me, but i was drained and feeling weak, so finally to bed. the top bunk is always more difficult than the bottom and no storage. a hot night on the courtyard; i thought about fire options while falling asleep.

video of the rome metro [1.35 mb] far from the most painted.

posted by paul at Tue 27 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

26 September 2005

cold liquid chocolate


i woke up around 1000 and checked my email. mieszko had emailed with his schedule. today was his first day at university and as could be expected he had a lot going on. i tried giving him a call from the hostel but got no answer; decided to head out for the new city walk and try him a little later. destination: the old town which wasn't quite as old as it used to be. the day was beautiful and i was ready to explore. i was still fully charged from my extending rest in prague; i'd definitely made the right decision to take a break.

down to the old town. beautiful. got some food and walked lazily through the streets. tried mieszko again and got through; we made plans to meet in front of the palace of culture and science at 1700. i checked my map and found the pałac kultury i nauki. that must be it... right by the train station... i'd walked by it on my way to the hostel the night before. an unfamiliar beep from my camera. hmm. i'd charged the batteries this morning. memory card full. blah. i'd been taking a lot of pictures and it had been a few days since i'd copied my pictures from my camera to my computer. i contemplated going through the pix on the camera and deleting bad shots in order to gain some space on the card, but decided against it. it was afternoon; decided to start heading back to the area of the palace. on the way i was forced to delete some shots in order to capture necessary others.

back at the hostel i confirmed with the hostel staff that the pałac kultury i nauki was indeed the palace of culture and science. but why was i asking... most of the exhibits would be closing soon. 'i'm meeting someone there.' they explained that the building was quite large and had multiple entrances. this will be interesting.

walked over around 1630 and found what i believed to be the main entrance, under the large letters which spelled out the name of the building. mieszko told me he'd be wearing a pink shirt and a hat with the name of my father's business on it. at 1705 i still hadn't seen any pink shirts. i must be at the wrong entrance. at 1710 i decided to circle the building and that's when i saw a pink shirt. hat... yes, but this wasn't the brown and yellow hat i was familiar with. closer. closer. i couldn't read the words until i was right on top of him... [dad, when did you have purple hats made?]. as he passed me i stopped him... 'mieszko?' 'paul?' rendez-vous confirmed.

mieszko introduced me to his parents and asked what i'd seen so far. just the old town. he had some ideas... first to lazienki park. we got in the car and began driving. strange to be in a car again... it was a good feeling. my guides pointed out interesting sites along the way. we arrived and began walking... first past the chopin monument. a beautiful park. we dropped mieszko's mom off near their apartment and then continued on to more sites. finally to a wedel chocolate restaurant where i drank _deliciously amazing_ cold liquid chocolate. wow. back in the car and over to mieszko's home where his mom had prepared an amazing meal. wow again. home cooked meal. the entirety of the time i spent with mieszko and his family was absolutely incredible; so friendly and welcoming... thank you so much! i regretted that i'd be leaving tomorrow. had i known i would love poland so much (and meet so many nice people) i would surely have planned to stay longer.

my flight was leaving at 1330 the next day; mieszko planned to pick me up at the hostel at 1000 and bring me back for breakfast before taking me to the airport.

posted by paul at Mon 26 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

25 September 2005

with such short notice

today was a travel day and typicaly on travel days i investigate transport times and buy my tickets first thing in the morning (if i haven't already done those things days before). for some reason i wasn't in a rush to purchase my warsaw train ticket this morning. not only was i not in a rush to buy the ticket, but i hadn't even investigated hostels for tonight. the hostel i'd been staying in in krakow was the first i've encountered that had no official checkout time (i wish all hostels employed this policy). i wasn't in a rush to check out, to purchase my ticket, or to find a hostel in warsaw for tonight. in general, i wasn't rushing to leave krakow; i really liked it here.

a few weeks ago my dad had emailed me to let me know that one of the people working for him was from poland and that he would be returning to his home in warsaw a few days before i was scheduled to arrive. amazing timing. i'd emailed mieszko about a week ago and told him that my schedule wasn't very concrete; i wasn't sure how long i'd be staying in krakow and that i'd let him know when i'd be coming to warsaw. the last few days had gone by quickly and i realized today as i was packing that i hadn't told him that i'd be in warsaw this evening. i emailed him and told him i'd give him a call tomorrow morning. then i checked hostelworld.com... interesting, absolutely no dorm beds were available in warsaw. hmm, that's a first. mieszko had very kindly offerred to let me stay at his place, but i felt bad about asking with such short notice. dimi suggested asking the hostel staff to assist.

the girl working at the reception desk was amazingly cool. checked train times for me and called a hostel and made a reservation. problem solved. trains ran pretty much every hour between krakow and warsaw, so i had some time for one last krakow mission. i wanted to see oskar schindler's factory. dimi and anders were hanging around the hostel; i invited them to join me.

after a 20 minute walk, we arrived on lipowa street. looking for number 4: found. i knew from other hostelites who had visited the factory that it's possible to enter and look around. dimi, anders, and i wandered around from one building to the next; all apparently shared the 4 lipowa address. finally we came across something which looked promising; dimi thought he recognized the gate. we walked back out onto the street and saw the sign. a very nice man explained to us that we could go inside and watch a slideshow and see schindler's office and sign our names in a guestbook. the gallery tells the story best.

anders beat dimi and me back to the hostel for a certain reason. packed and out. 50 instead of 20, back up. note from lewis, back up. i made it to the train station around 1630. jeden, warszawa. two tickets, interesting. i found the correct seat and the train was rolling.

a few hours later the train arrived during the dark. when i emerged from the train station, the city that greeted me was pretty much what i was expecting: warsaw : krakow :: glasgow : edinburgh. a skyscraper industrial city, at least from this side. several people had told me (and i'd read) that warsaw had been hit very hard during world war ii. seems they've done a lot of rebuilding since then. got my bearings and found my way over to the hostel. went out for some food and then to sleep.

posted by paul at Sun 25 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

24 September 2005

quickly to the surface

the highlight of this day was not the tour of the salt mines in wieliczka. don't misunderstand, the mines were impressive. i spent three hours underground with two tour guides wandering through the extended labyrinth of tunnels on the upper three of nine levels. down a forever wood staircase covered with marks from past visitors; the whole mine was marked. large hollows left when the salt was removed. several turned into beautiful chapels, the most impressive kinga's, the staircase, the floor tiles, the sculptures on the walls all carved from one large block of rock salt. i inhaled deeply near a salt lake. a museum explaining the techniques used by the miners. nine of us crammed into the top level of the lift and the door shut, raised quickly to the surface through the darkness, shaking.

no, the highlight of this day was not the day at all. it was the night. i hadn't intended to go out at all, just a dinner and then back inside for some writing, but as i became unalone and the group grew to six in an unusual string of coincidences, i was caught up within the night and decided not to resist.

after i returned to krakow from wieliczka, i met a new roommate, the egyptian greek australian dimi, back at the hostel. i asked him if he wanted to join me for dinner. in the town square, ellion surprised me as i stood in line waiting for an atm. swiss ellion had been forced to relocate from our hostel along with many others the night before due to a lack of beds. i asked her to join us to the infamous polanski's; no chicken cutlet for me this time. delicious pierogis and potato soup. on the way there she told us she had been looking for a friend who used to live in krakow, now working in nigeria, currently back in poland. she'd been unsuccessful in locating him.

after dinner we returned to the town square and ran into australian anders, another relocated hostelite. moments later, ellion's missing friend, half german half polish kaspar, saw us standing near his table, came over and invited the four of us to sit down with him and his polish friend, andreon. kaspar had lived in krakow before relocating to nigeria temporarily for his job; andreon still lived in krakow. we had found one of the traveller's best friends: locals. and not just any locals, these locals were on a mission tonight. kaspar explained the plan to check out a birthday party for a friend of andreon's at a local bar before moving on to others in the extensive krakovian underworld. i'd seen the salt mines of wieliczka's underground; it was time to see the bars and clubs of krakow's.

first to a basement bar of brick with curved ceilings similar to those i'd seen in prague and cesky krumlov, completely packed. a narrow passageway led to a chamber where a three piece band was rocking hard in english and polish [the long haired singer seemed out of place in this land of the shaved head]; the crowd was devouring their music and cheering and i was cheering along with them. kaspar's drink of choice was a mad dog (fiescu pies?)... some devious creation topped off with a few drops of tobasco sauce... and the rest of us allowed him to lead us down the stinging path. i feared for my night and for the next morning. we didn't stay long... we were on a mission. the next two bars were protected by large doormen. fortunately, we had the keys. i'm not exactly sure what he said to them, but kaspar unlocked the lock and the doormen ushered us in. no cover, no questions. the second club was covered with pictures, the third filled with frenetic dancing. the night was incredible... kaspar took us to bars we likely would not have found without him and got us in to places from which we likely would have been turned away. [thank you sir for an incredible night; i'll definitely stay in touch]. wish i'd had my camera with me.

it cost me 50 zloty to upgrade anders' age.

that girl has the world in her eyes.

posted by paul at Sat 24 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

23 September 2005

never find me

my plan to take a well recommended bike tour of krakow failed when i woke up late. i spent the day wandering the city and took a nap in a park. upon waking for the second time today i found drool on my sweatshirt. inventory of my pockets checked out.

over to polanski's for some lunch. pretty much a regular. a self service restaurant. order, sit, wait for your number. the number came up and i went up to the front to grab my chicken cutlet. hmm, two identical chicken cutlet plates. i'll just take this one. back at the table the chicken seemed a little soft. taste. ah, fish. errr. hmm, not bad. i looked left and then right. they'll never find me. i'll just eat this delicious fish and they'll never know.

i had failed to look the one place she was standing... up.

'you took the wrong plate! that is fish. you ordered chicken.' her tone wasn't the typical american waitress 'oh, i think you made have made a mistake and taken the wrong plate.' oh no. she was giving me a stern talking to. ha! it was almost amusing... i'd heard these same waitresses lay into other customers (polish customers) for asking for things that weren't on the menu. i apologized and asked her what she wanted me to do. she stood over me staring for another few seconds letting me think about what i'd done. you just think about what you've done young man... you've taken the wrong plate. 'return the plate and take yours.' i returned the plate one bite less than i'd found it. grabbed the other, my chicken. yum. when i left i apologized again and she smiled and said 'that's all right. they look exactly the same.' um, exactly.

went out with a big crew from the hostel. ran into an equally matched group of germans and formed an international supergroup comprised of rock stars from germany, wales, ireland, australia, england, and america. late night.

das ist verboten.

posted by paul at Fri 23 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

22 September 2005

remembering auschwitz


a sickness began inside me as the bus neared our destination. a blurring of thoughts that i was trying desperately to sort out. a swirling of questions. through the distracting conversation of the past few months of my trip that i didn't want to discuss at that moment. please, just let me think. just a moment of silence to concentrate. but maybe she had a sickness too and that was her way of dealing with it.

is it wrong of me to visit a place where thousands of people were murdered? what are my reasons for visiting? this is not a tourist attraction. how could this have happened? how was this allowed to happen? i need to know every single detail about the events that led up to that moment. the victims in the train travelling sixty years ago and what they must have been thinking. and more the sickness and watery eyes.

she asked me if i wanted to split up and walk around separately. yes. i needed to be alone. to process.

not a word was muttered during the fifteen minute film. not one word.

and the day brilliant and warm didn't make me forget for an instant about what happened here and i owed it to them to constantly think sixty years ago. the barracks were brick; i didn't expect that. several barracks were open and contained exhibits.

an entire room filled with the shoes of victims.

an entire room filled with the shorn hair of victims.

pots and pans, clothing, brushes, eye glasses, luggage. all taken.

starvation cell. standing cell. in the basement i had to remind myself that there wasn't a long line of people waiting to enter each room sixty years ago. there was terror and fear and cruelty and inhumanity. complete inhumanity. in that building the first experimentation with zyklon b gas.

crematorium i where thousands of people were murdered. and i stand in the room and lean against one of the walls.

we meet and take the bus to auschwitz ii, birkenau. the scale of the camp completely staggers me. i had absolutely no idea. and i try to remember. as far as i could see, the barbed wire and barracks. the barracks were open and i walked through several. five to a pallette. the terror. a group of children are walking towards me on the rails carrying the flag of israel.

in the back of the camp, four crematoriums all demolished by the retreating nazis in an attempt to cover up their crime. but people are here remembering.

as i walk back towards the entrance, i turn right and walk through a gate and walk on a stone road. two men are working to conserve one of chimneys remaining from a barrack that was gone. at the end of the road i realize that there is not a gate to the main road. and i stop and stand there and just think for a few minutes before turning around to walk back. one of the workmen approaches and tells me there is a small opening to fit through. i return and find it.

back to the entrance. standing on the rails.

we're quiet during the bus ride back to krakow on this overwhelmingly heavy day filled with remembering.

posted by paul at Thu 22 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

21 September 2005

filled with a chaos

my first morning in krakow, i woke up at 0820 and was disappointed with the complimentary breakfast of toast and jam and the trickle of water in the shower. i should be so lucky in southeast asia.

a beautiful morning to the wawel castle where i toured the state rooms and armory. giant two handed swords, halberds, spears (one much like a two pronged pitchfork), maces, and morning stars with long spear shafts. i tried to imagine a battlefield filled with a chaos of men wielding these weapons, not just displays at a museum but blades slicing through and the heavy falling hard crushing. so often forgotten i fear that these displays were used for killing in a most gruesome and horrible way. it's necessary to think hard to remember. i decided not to purchase a ticket for the cathedral bell tower and royal tomb, perhaps i'd come back later, but now i wanted to continue the walk.

to the jewish ghetto, once contained within a wall, and the reminders of the second world war are everywhere in europe. this synagogue survived.

slowly along the wistula river where a woman walked with three children, two on razor scooters and one on inline skates, swirling around me. past the castle and back to where the light seemed perfect, finally to the town square. excavations are in progress. excavations make me happy.

the story of the troop of school kids and the lone stone monk will be lost here because it won't work in print, but the moment caused me to laugh for five full minutes along with the kids. i consider this one of my first successful people photos. imagine the mischief in him.

i met up with anders and chen for dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hostel. delicious potato soup, chicken cutlet, and potatoes.

posted by paul at Wed 21 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

20 September 2005

the chill in the air

systems online. after one point five months of reconnaissance in prague, czech republic, recon:one was go for roll out. destination: krakow, poland.

i'd packed most of my gear the night before. 0730 wakeup for the 1100 train from prague to krakow. took a shower, finished loading gear, charged all batteries, bid daniel farewell and exploded from the door of karmelitska 30 in praha 1 to continue the global reconnaissance mission 2005/6. the chill in the air the accelerator, i walked to the malostronska metro stop, on and off at staromestka, a mission to bohemian bagel to get a morning meal for the long train ride and more importantly, to connect my laptop to the worldwide net in order to transfer funds from savings to checking, lest i find myself in yet another iteration of the checking savings embarrassment.

train station. i'd already investigated train numbers and times and had written out the information on a piece of paper to facilitate the ticket purchase. yes, i'll have one of these please. the most friendly ticket agent at the counter asked my age. ah, the under 26 discount. i smiled. older than i look. no discount for me.

1100 -> 1730 on the first train to katowice, poland. czech republic/poland border and a troop of armed personnel boarded the train. the woman smiled as she flipped through my passport and handed it back. you are clear to proceed, recone:one. arrival in katowice, poland.

the train from katowice to krakow wasn't scheduled to leave until 1742, but when i arrived at the katowice train station at 1730, i saw only one train to krakow scheduled to leave at 1730, delayed five minutes until 1735. i wasn't sure if the departure times had changed or if this was an earlier train and the 1742 was still scheduled. the information board is god of all trains. after one minute of intense internal debate, the counsel decided to board the 1730/1735. 'krakow?' nod. this might not be my train, but it's going to my city.

by the time i arrived in krakow, the sun was gone. had i arrived fifteen minutes earlier i'd have been able to properly capture the most blazing sunset sky out of reach during the train ride. fifteen minutes late and fifteen levels below. through the train station... three times 'accomodation?' 'no, thank you.' to the town center through the darkness, florianska street, towards what i knew was beautiful. the massive town square was shaking from excitement and passed on the shaking to me. krakow was glowing and even more impressed me than prague, this a fifteen minute first impression. an openness which still had the chill in the air, the chill makes you pull your jacket tighter and feel warm inside. and i was in poland and i had my sweatshirt and jacket on both.

i found my hostel quickly, three flights up, and then three flights down quickly to the openness where i watched a collective of they who pretend to live on the streets spin fire, perhaps the most skilled of any i'd seen, one twenty four i'd guess the best who spun two with one hand. a revolution of light blurring behind his back and over his head. the others less so.

in the hostel i met anders (australian), daniel (austrian), serena and helen (british), and chen (chinese american). i'd forgot a little of what hostel living was like. the standard questions did not cause me to sigh; it was a new oldness that i didn't mind. after all, i was burning inside again.

posted by paul at Tue 20 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

19 September 2005

bring on the bugsicles

my mom wrote me the following after reading my last post. it's so unbelievably mom-like i just had to post it here. love you mom!

Hi sweetheart,

I dare you not to seriously consider any ridiculous dares, such as eating bugs, etc. or any dangerous ones either. You don't want to end up in some strange hospital. OK, so now I've said my piece... I feel better.

You know it's only because I love you.

God bless, love mom

posted by paul at Mon 19 Sep 2005 at 00:00:01 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

the missing on the far side of discomfort


the current music selection involves thorazine.

i dedicate the remainder of my trip to the pursuit of discomfort. i know now what she meant: the trail to true traveller salvation leads through uncomfortable situations. i think i've been too concerned about being a tourist, the one who doesn't belong. and maybe this is deeper in me beyond just the scope of this trip, but regardless, it seems an appropriate setting to confront it. it is against [me] to walk willingly into the dark; far easier to stay in the light. i'll need to make a concerted effort to force myself. because what is the purpose of this journey? to seek the differences, yes, but i've been missing something important in my struggle to not appear the outsider. i think i'll find the missing on the far side of discomfort. discomfort is the beginning. so, to the readers, i must request your assistance in this endeavor. please push me screaming and kicking back into the dark when i stray. i'm serious. i envision these pushes in the form of challenges, as in 'i challenge you to eat crickets in vietnam', 'i challenge you to outrun a dragon on komodo', or 'i challenge you to experience gravity in new zealand.'. i challenge you to challenge me; the reconboard is waiting.

i will significantly increase the percentage of photos which focus on people. this will take some time and practice. i have a gigantic shimmering shining silver camera which doesn't know the meaning of the word 'discretion'. in addition, the three seconds of start up can mean the difference between capturing a brilliant moment and capturing the nothingness after the the moment passes. yet another shortcoming of my camera: the black halo effect that appears in some of my photos is definitely a design limitation during full zoom out. i can't believe i didn't notice the halo earlier; now i can't not. quite irritating. i feel i've advanced to the level above and i'd like to replace the camera, but i really can't justify spending 1k usd right now.

i miss my blackness. after three months, you would have thought that i'd have gotten used to the blue jeans and brilliantly browns. not at all. it will be a heavy day in hell when i pull the black boots on again. jenn and jamie, you are the keepers of the boots... can you feel their power?

end of the randomness. so what have i been doing for the past month in prague? i've been rebuilding the internal inferno and now i'm burning inside again.

the night sarah left, 07 august, i checked into the u melounu hostel with a lovely central garden in praha 2 for two nights. the hostel was full on the third day; i transferred to sir toby's hostel in praha 7 where i stayed for four nights and never learned the kitten's name. all the while i scanned the internet searching for a rebuilding room. i bought a beginner czech language book and created and studied an extensive vocabulary list all college student style. black is cerny. at the end of chapter one i was able to successfully decode a paragraph describing objects in a room. i never made it to chapter two, highly discouraged after three separate czech people told me not even to bother, the grammar is far too difficult and one month is not nearly enough. i'm one to conquer what others have not but realistically, i feared the acquired would leave me soon after i left the republic.

i looked at four flats and with energy ever waning after seven days of exhausting searching, i moved into the fourth at karmelitska 30, praha 1, with an amazing view of the prague castle, minutes from the charles bridge. i went to work immediately with the recharging, enjoying copious amounts of early morning sleep without the bother of cleaning personnel or checkout times or noisy dorm room roommates. after a few days, i'd reverted to my regular night time schedule; writing in this journal during the dark, sleeping during the light; i even went so far as to purchase a distressing sleeping mask to help dull the daytime brightness. but even the mask couldn't save me from a complete day/night reversal; as my night was ending i walked to the bridge to watch the sun rise. one of my roommates kept a similar schedule.

danny is a self proclaimed elitist with all of the traits associated with the self proclaimed elite; a 24 year old eating machine american from california, letting his days drift as he works on a book; he knows the meaning of life, a philospher, perhaps someday a physicist, but hopefully not always an elitist. laura is french, paris and lyon with six years in the carribean, martinique and guadaloupe; 20 years old, smiling and friendly, i harrass her endlessly with what she describes as a terrible french accent, finally i had a teacher. her english is excellent, but of course she doesn't think so; i told her that if she can get the 'th' sound down it will go kilometers to improving her mastery of the language.

i used my superior system administrator skills to install danny's inferior usb dsl modem; systems were online for approximately two weeks until the phone company eventually shut down the connection. it came to light that danny hadn't paid the phone bill for four months; i was less than pleased as the internet was a deciding factor when i took the room. i wanted to catch up with the entries here and had a lot of online travel arrangements to make. i handled all of the interactions with the czech phone company; learned that the line was not simply shut down temporarily for non-payment, in fact it was shut down permanently and would have to be reprovisioned from nothing, a fifteen days of waiting. i wouldn't be waiting.

i went out to a club several times with danny and laura, separately, and on several of those times, i had a bit too much czech beer and once ended up crawling across danny's unclean floor. less of a crawling actually and more of a sliding, propelled by pushing feet. prague is filled with americans, this club in particular. i danced to highly suspect music. met laura's very friendly czech and french colleagues: vladka, agnes, nicholas, nichola, carole, and clara. met lars, the club's danish dj, basir, born in india, now residing in denmark, and steve, a filipino american.

on 23 august 2005, i went to a show to see a horrible touring canadian band; enjoyed one of the opening czech bands far more, specifically one of their songs entitled 'don't trust klingons' during which a second vocalist, 'captain picard', came onstage to double the chorus. i kept a close watch on the flyers hanging around town and scanned the web regularly for other shows, but this was the only show which appealed to me.

on 31 august 2005, i visited the technical museum in prague and saw a special exhibit on hr giger, creator of the alien monster. kick.

the supreme counsel of the global reconnaissance organization held a covert meeting during the first week of september 2005 to calculate mission success rates given the physical appearance of the primary recon agent. results weren't good; the beard was attracting too much negative attention and making it difficult to meet new people. the order came down from the highest levels of command to clean up, shave, and cut my hair. i complied on 03 september 2005, a few days before applying for my visa at the indian embassy in prague.

on 08 september 2005, laura and i took a trip to kutna hora, about an hour and a half southwest of prague. she'll deny it, but it was her fault that we got off the train at the wrong stop. [l: ha!] the prime target for me was the ossuary chapel. remember the schwarzenburg coat of arms from cesky krumlov? the ossuary chapel in kutna hora shows a similar schwarzenburg coat of arms made entirely out of human bones... complete with the raven pecking the eye out of a fallen turk soldier's severed head. [the full 08 september kutna hora gallery can be found here. all of the bones shown in the pictures are human and real. more information on the kutna hora and the ossuary chapel can be found at http://www.kutnahora.cz.]

my mom and her husband, george, visited 10 - 17 september 2005. two days in prague; the mucha museum. alfons maria mucha: a genius; i will absolutely be decorating my walls with his work when i return home. back down to the mother city, luhacovice. this time i'd brought blood more pure. my mother had brought all of the postcards and i was able to capture more pictures. we visited the museum woman again with the originals and learned that she'd attended school with a prachar in the neighboring town of pozlovice. we took a bus and found what sarah and i had not during our search in luhacovice a month before: a gravesite bearing the family name; most certainly some distant relation. truly gigantic. the two men had been born shortly after my great grandmother had emmigrated in 1905; they would have been infants referenced in the cards. we returned to prague after spending three days in a town the name of which my mother could not pronounce.

i've been bringing the globalrecon systems back online. laundry is done. i'm getting all of my equipment back in order. it's time to continue the mission. tempus perditur. tomorrow i'll be leaving prague and the czech republic; destination: krakow, poland.

posted by paul at Mon 19 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

11 September 2005

i can't help but feel


the american embassy in prague.

september 11, 2005.

posted by paul at Sun 11 Sep 2005 at 14:40:40 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

03 September 2005

for those in situation critical

my thoughts are with the victims of the katrina disaster in the southern united states. a friend sent me a link for a livejournal blog being published by someone currently in new orleans who is sharing firsthand experiences of the disaster: survival of new orleans. very moving. if you're getting your news from the television or the newspaper, this will give you an entirely new perspective on the situation.

make a secure online donation at the red cross website.

posted by paul at Sat 03 Sep 2005 at 08:35:40 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)