early april 2004...
return from austin, get passport, get visa, make deadline, give lecture, organize lecture, pay bills, arrange deadline, do taxes, close shop, close house, eat, pack, make plane... a blur of a week. first recollections of what is likely to be a long story start with an 8 hour lay over in vienna. spend most of them squatted by a pillar with a plugpoint working on the laptop. next recollection is a tsinghua student with a big conference sign shepherding me to change money and then into a cab, giving the driver instructions for the xijiao hotel. soon after the driver starts to talk with some urgency in chinese. i shrug my shoulders. urgency mounts and the language gets simpler, down to two words. she-jao chee-haa is what i hear in a questioning tone. the first is the hotel name so i nod my head but he persists. eventually i dig up laptop and cel phone number for the conference organizer dr. hu. everyone in china including cabbies carry cel phones. the she-jao chee-haa is rectified to she-jao ping-wa which i later find to be the word for hotel. chee-haa to me is still still a cowboy yell. the hotel is fine... ten forms, five passport showings and two security deposits later i am in a comfortable hotel room. hi-speed access in the room just means that i continue to work on papers... turn on the t.v. and flip channels feeling like bill murray in lost in translation. walk out around dusk. the area is close to tsinghua university, the M.I.T. of china, so there are students all around. at first glance to me it is like a cross between japan and india both of which are home to me but the combination is deadly. a feeling of complete alienation you get in few places. of course knowing chinese for... yes, no, thank you, hello... would be helpful. instead i know "ni hen shao bao" and "ge wo yi mao qien"... you are a pork bun and give me a dime. ironically i feel most in my element, feeling like a fish out of water. its about midnight. a few blocks from the hotel is CD/DVD/VCD place... buy a coldplay double CD (the last two albums) for 15rmb ~ 2us$, and the dvd for lost in translation for 10rmb. I want to buy bruce lee type side button jacket. make a mental note to come back to this and other such stores. spend an hour hanging out in a scummy korean univ. drinking hole. yanjing is the beer here. that and some nondescript carcass on a skewer.
need to find some better food. need to learn to order food. pointing at other people's food here just brings you carcass on a stick with sesame seeds, which frankly tastes like shit barring the sesame seeds. go back to the hotel, start preparing slides for the talk but am distracted looking for chinese phrases on the internet. find some very complex ways to say yes and no. languages are funny. in the korean restaurant there was a guy with a t-shirt that said... "coq au vin". he also had a cap on that said... "ape bathing". the phone on the bedside says "dial 0 for outline". turn on lost in translation on the laptop. mid way through the sound and picture get offset by one chapter making it all even more ironic. continue to work on papers and then its morning. the conference is fun. small, the talks are surprisingly good and stimulating... give one in the afternoon. lunch and dinner are on the univ. campus. still no clue where i am going to be in 4 days. plans of an adventure to beat all adventures with shomik who is now a certified chinaman are dashed by the schedules of chinese folks that meet with world bank types. the jet lag continues, so i go running in my new running shoes. new balance 991, motion controls for pronators, the website reviews says these shoes are worn by clinton, eric clapton and seal. decide to skip out the next day after the keynote. borrow a student yue's bike. the seat wobbles but is easily fixed with the trusty leatherman on my belt. the brakes are nonexistant and this the leatherman cannot fix. i ride from tsinghua through town mostly south down huayuan donglu all the way down to tianamen square. the traffic in china is insane. mostly its a complete lack of respect for traffic lights by all but motorized vehicles. somewhere along the way i lose my map. now, getting around is a challenge. but i remember the name of the hotel and tianamen and that is enough. scout around stores, along the way, ride around the forbidden city, the tianamen square with the giant picture of mao. am struck by the caucasianness of the statues of the people that are on either side of the tianamen memorial monument. go in search of a dictionary that has pinyin the roman transliteration of chinese without much luck. the giant beijing bookstore has none so i buy a book on chinese art instead. 6pm and its rush hour.... i make it back in a record 40 mins. threading through traffic without brakes and only once am forced to use the back of a car to slow down... to come to crashing halt, actually. the evening is a conference banquet and fatigue that finally knocks me out. 5am and i am back to papers. leaving it all to shomik has left me singularly unprepared. but he sends me one worthy email to compensate for his absence. its long and i dont have a printer but i believe that what is to be retained will stick in my head somewhere... so the important things i take from it are...
q is ch (qi or 7 is chi) x is sh (xian is shian) and e is pronounced u so deng (wait) is pronounced dung as what cows produce if you dont eat them. cabs are cheap - take them. trains have hard seat (2nd class unreserved) and soft seat (first class) - both are quite cheap - start with soft seat. you know the numbers yi er san si (also the word for death unlucky number). dont disregard the possibility of taking planes - discount tickets are often available - up to 40%. eat well. - ordering a bunch of dishes - sort of risk management.
spicy/spicy/hot sauce= la jiao
eggplant = qiezi
mushrooms = mo gu
greens in general = qingzai
spinach bo cai
black bean= heidou
fried noodles= chao mian
...i transcribe onto a hotel jot pad.
then there is some information local to beijing. the silk market sunlitan, the hong qi pearls place and the traditional market south of tianamen. and two peking duck recommendations. all in all a poor substitute to a long anticipated trip with someone that is as close to an alter ego as it gets but better than nothing.
the last day of the conference passes by. in the afternoon i head off after talks to some temples confucius and one opposite it. the next day we have a trip organized to the great wall. its a pretty steep climb around the section we go to, signalled by the "i climbed the great wall" tshirts and congratulatory plastic medals on ribbons that you can buy at the gifts stalls at the bottom. the wall itself is less impressive in this section largely sue to the millions of people crawling like ants all over it. in the afternoon i take a masters student jitender dimri from II of science bangalore into town. its his first time out of india and i do my damnedest not to colour his opinions and view of anything... we take a cab to wanfujing the tourist street in town and i finally find a chinese pinyin pocket phrasebook in a bookstore there. a chinese art student with a wonderfully friendly approach takes us through a maze of buldings to a little "exhibition" up in a little room before turning it into a sob story to coax us into buying some art. ...which i would have, had i liked it. back on the street we are approached by a different art student every few blocks. the local chinese market south of tianamen is great. jitender is amused while i bargain for silk shirts, coins, the bruce lee style shirt and a little chinese suit for marmite. my approach is simple. i ask how much and then walk away. the price keeps dropping. eventually return to a place and come away with a bagfull of stuff, knowing that i probably got ripped off but not as much as the dude down the street in the tank top and bermuda shorts with $$ signs tattooed on his forehead. in the evening i make it out to one of shomik's peking duck recommendations and a good recommendation it is. i pick up a few good tips from greg nielson and ron goldman that soak into the already soggy travel neurons. in all this while i decide that my first stop is xi'an and baining guo is able to get me a soft sleeper ticket for the next day train and a reservation at the luxurious shangrilla hotel.
baining guo is a friend and computer graphics guru at microsoft research in beijing. have lunch at his home in one of the international residential developments outside of beijing... like gurgaon. his daughter edie teaches me the singular most useful chinese word for the next few days... huo-che-zhian. fire car station... train station! she says it over like ho-chi-minh, rin-tin-tin or jan-ken-pon. a cab ride to the beijing west railway station and an adventure begins. the soft sleeper in china is ver much like second class AC on an indian train as i remember it and the people that travel it as bland. not that it matters. i sleep well on trains. pass out as soon as my head hits the bunk and the next i realize i am being roused by a train attendant, while another grabs my bag, socks and shoes and runs out the train as i follow groggy and barefoot as the train gets ready to roll out of xi'an. its 6am.
a student from gansu province is here for an exam and helps me get my bearings. most people here are quite happy to show off their english which often amounts to shouts of "hurro"! xi'an is an old walled city. capital to many dynastys it is a geographical hub that connects much of the country. head to the bell tower first in the center of town and there at the bell tower hotel i find a little tourist map of the city. head straight for the muslim quarter, the old part of town. its an incongruous sight, chinese muslims with white caps and little beards. pull out a point shoot and throw camera thats been sitting in my backpack for the first time. must be the marco polo article i read... the one about the ph.d. thesis that set out to prove that marco polo never ventured further than his families trading posts in constantinople and his travelogoue was as imagined as coleridge's epic poem kublai khan. not that a photograph constitutes much proof in these days of the internet and photoshop. the polo fable theory is based on key omissions in polo's manuscript such as the bound feet of chinese women. meanwhile i snap away... from pensive old men to hanging pieces of meat in dirty old alleys. go to the great mosque an impressive structure with a mix of kanji and an arabic looking script. there is a big line of people for a sloppy soup with big pieces of white bread. yangrou pao-mo, i am told, looks pretty unappetizing. then shomiks words come ringing back... eat well! i get some. its not bad. the bread is a bit dry but dipped in the soup its edible. at the mosque there is a german tourist whose answer to each of eleventeen questions is the renmin flats hotel. so see-ya shangrilla thats where i head instead. there is a travel agent of sorts there that i talk to for a while figuring out the next stop... chengdu, lijiang, lanzhou, kunming, a sea of options... based on the information i am given i decide not to decide. outside the flats there is a guy making egg parathas on a metal drum in oil that is black from overuse. half a yuan... its quite yummy. further down there is a little shopkeeper that i buy a landmark beer from for 2rmb. beer is second only to tea in this country. every province has its own local labelling of essentially the same light lager. yanjing in beijing. hans and landmark in shaanxi. finding cold beer in china, however, is a luxury even in the most luxurious of restaurants. on the street its always either warm or frozen from sitting in a icebox too long. this guy has piju leung - cold beer. with the wanfujing phrase book and some confidence i find that there are similar roots to words in japanese not surprisingly... biru - piju, chizu - ditu... the cold beer dude offers me his little stool as i sit and wash down the greasy egg roti and try and answer his questions with a smile, hand gestures and indo, since it is quite likely he wants to know where i am from. the guy next to him is making boiled egg smashed into local pao, which i think is bread, so i have one of those too... he refuses to charge me so i buy gum and another landmark beer instead. these guys make this cool hand gesture when i charade for the bus to take me to the huo-che-zhian. later i find out that it is a counting system to ten with one hand. the first five numbers are universal but then it gets interesting. nine, the bus number is like a C made with the thumb and forefinger but point straight at you. take the bus back to the railway station and the public bus to the famous terracotta warriors, bingmayong. the bus ride is great. its still cool outside. i scribble some notes in an unused japanese diary that says march 1994, listening to eminem on the ipod cleaning out his closet. the ride is half an hour long and the landmark beer is gratefully consumed to the sounds of cabrel's hors saison. looking at the diary now, i am hard put to even guess the contents of the moving bus scribble. bus is gong-gong-che or gong-gong car. the warriors in bingmayong are scattered over 3 pits and were built as an underground army to protect the tomb of a qin king i think. touted as the umpteenth eighth wonder of the world they justify that billing in sheer number if nothing else. some farmers found them in the 70's digging a well. in bingmayong i find to my horror that the only way to get to huashan from here is to retrace the half hour back to xi'an and then take a bus to huashan village a two and hour journey. I think I had gotten soft with north american adventure, or the planned vacations with the perception of adventure. your body has an adventure while your mind goes on vacation. out east its chaos... some of your senses that go to sleep out west wake up in the east. a little different from india though, there they hound you for this and that if you are a tourist. here no one really gives a rats ass. complete indifference. its like you are one of them. or maybe its because i am not blond in bermuda shorts with a two ton s.l.r. dangling around my neck. knowing this, i ask a cabbie how to get to huashan. he says the same but then offers to take me there for 300rmb. i say thanks but no thanks. then another one comes and says 200. i say 50 is all i can afford and will take the bus. he says he will take me. i sit in the cab. we start to drive but i figure for 50 he will take me to the bus. i hop off he asks for 5 for carrying me 100 meters. i give him a look and walk off. he comes up behind and say its 100 km, which it is, to huashan, but ok for 150 rmb he'll take me. i say 100 and he does not say yes but opens the door. i tell him is welcome to pick up another passenger, though i have no clue now a week later how i was able to convey that in chinese. he stops a few km. down the road at the qin tomb with that in mind, i think. anyway i go see the qin tomb. its basically a giant park around a huuuge mound in the middle and large quantities of mercury in the ground, i forget why. no additional passengers, we continue down a tiny dirt road through what looks like rice fields for a good 15 mins. a short cut he says, to avoid the toll booths. he speaks some english words and my phrase book is working overtime. back on the main road and about 20kms later we come to a fork in the road. he says fast way pointing to a tollway and says 20 yuan... i point the other way, he says very slow, looking unhappy. i persist, he thinks its for the money. i make a snake like motion with my arm to say that he should have no problem with a slow road weaving through traffic. this makes him happy. i say he fast driver. he goes thumbs up. i say in india everyone drive like him. he points at me and makes a weaving motion with his hand. i nod my head. shortly past a police checkpost, he pulls over and says you friend, points at me and turns and air-steering-wheel back and forth. i put my thumb and we switch places. its small 4-speed hatchback... like a ford fiesta or a maruti zen made by some local chinese company whose logo on the steering wheel is a vertically stretched circle inscribed in a horizontally stretched circle. my new friend seems pretty relaxed about having a complete stranger at the wheel as he puts his feet up and sips on his bottle of water with tea leaves at the bottom. i was not quite able to discern whether the cab was his or he simply drove for a taxi-tycoon. so we weave on through the chinese countryside past the town of weinan, past an amazingly looking power plant straight out of the industrial revolution and then past a couple of small toll gates with a token toll which he hands me. the toll takers seem surprised at the driving situation which amuses my friend to no end. its a couple of hours on the road but in time we pull into the village of huashan.
he takes me to his friend's shop and i buy him a beer which we drink out of paper cups. i also buy some water, cookies, pringles and rent a flashlight. i give the man 120rmb, he writes down his name and address in kanji in my japanese diary and says postcard. i say ok and start to walk up the mountain. its a 15 km path, mostly stepped straight up to the top of the granite rocks of huashan. there is an amazing taoist, i think, temple at the base of the mountain and at 6:30pm the monks are out in full force chanting at dusk. a compellingly strong spiritual sight, a tub of burning incense smoke working its way up to the sky. its 7 but light by the time i start to walk up. cross a few stragglers tottering down the mountain. after a while its only locals carrying empty supplies or trash down the mountain. the route is well paved but an exercise in step by step meditative concentration since all but the newly laid steps are all of different width and height. before long i am alone, the hothouse flowers songs from the rain album making an excellent climbing soundtrack. every half a km. there are a little refreshment stalls that makes carrying bottles of water unnecessary. the only other people going up the moutain are these two chinese middle aged ladies i keep passing in a hare and tortoise fashion. they just plough on. at one point i wait for them to help me out with the chinese signage at a fork in the path. the pringles and cookies come in handy. the steps are narrow and hard work. anyone with over size 8 feet has to pretty much climb on the balls of their feet. marco polo probably knew that the only reason women's feet were bound was so they might climb huashan. i walk up sideways for good sections of the climb. by 9 its dark but the sky is cloudless and there is enough ambient light for the most part. long sections are also lit with electric lamps. at one point i stop at a little stall for a drink of red bull. the stalls are pretty much packed up but the people running them are still there, playing cards or watching t.v. by around 10 fatigue starts to set in so i sit and watch stars and listen to shostakovich. another hour and i come across a guy standing around smoking a cigarette. at the entrance to cave in the cliff off the path. he has a most intense expression and i ask if i can take a picture. he figures i want him to take a picture of me instead of the other way round. anyway the moment is lost but then he invites me into his cave. its about 15 feet in any direction, lit by two flickering candles. a bunk bed in one corner for him and another guy in the cave. assorted metal and other junk in the cave. there is something beautiful about the place despite the dank dinginess. education and language can be such an impediment. these men communicate with ease. they offer me their food, some local spirit. they tell me its going to be cold further up and i can sleep here if i want. i decline saying i must go on. the man says i should sit for two hours to rest then continue. i gladly sit for about 15 mins filling their glasses from the mickey of edelweiss schnapps i had picked up at the vienna airport and forgotten about, then say i must plod on. sitting in the cave near midnight makes me realize how arrogant and silly it was to think i could make it up these 15 km. in 4 hours. the area in general is a lot like yosemite before it turned into disneyland. having climbed half dome by moonlight i also realize that it is an ant hill compared to this baby. or maybe i was fitter then. anyway a brief rest and i am off. the cave dude offers me a tattered shawl, likely his only one. i decline thank them and move on. there is little that i can leave them... they have it all. soon i catch up with the two ladies resting at the base of a most impressive stairway, the green dragon ridge. at 1am on a cloudless night all you see is steps that lead into the oblivion. on either side there is a sturdy railing and sheer drops beyond. i doubt i will ever see anything closer to a stairway to heaven. no electric lamps anymore but the stars and the railing are good enough. from the other side its a stairway to hell except that you dont see as far down... for the first time one needs some light in spots. i get by with the ingenuous idea of using the backlight on my ipod completely forgetting the flashlight in my pack which i had the foresight to rent. another hour and i am at the base of one last vertical climb up some cables to east peak. a woman in the stall there wakes up and gladly sells me a coke and cup noodles. she also points me at a little hut that i can rent for the night. up the cables and to the top... there is an obelisk with some kanji on it and a little tin room with a lock on it. that and a view that will look better in the morning, quiet and pretty, when the sun rises. the cave dude was right. it is cold and with the wind whipping up even more so. the fleece and windbreaker in my pack work well. i also discover the flashlight and use it to find a little spot sheltered by some rocks and lie down. its about half past one. the next thing i realize its 3 and there is some dude talking to me excitedly. he was looking for a place to squat and stumbled over me... needless to say he finds a place to squat nearby and continues talking excitedly. i get up and walk around. he is some sort of caretaker... the tin room is now open with a light on. in it there must be at least a hundred tattered flea ridden green coats that are like red army surplus. there are two people there wearing them. by then my eyes are open and i just about recognize them to be the two ladies making it up the mountain. the caretaker dude throws about a dozen coats on the ground outside. he and the ladies lie on them and motion me to do the same. its cold and i gladly accept. the next i realize i am cold again. and voices. its about 5am. and there are about a dozen young student types there. they have slowly pulled away the coats from under and over me... its looks like a military platoon. they have made it up for the sunrise. so much for quiet. its a party waiting for the sun to rise, which it finally does around 6:30 in a rather unspectacular fashion. i make it across the ridge to two higher peaks, the south and north peak and then make my way down the mountain, stopping only to brush my teeth and charge my ipod for five minutes at a stall along the way. i must miss some turnoff because i end up near a cable car station halfway up the mountain and a sign that say south huashan col, valiant soldiers path. it is an unrelentless straight descent that i have paid for with muscles that are still recuperating. it also must have been longer because instead of ending up at the gate to the temple i end up near the cable car entrance 11 kms from huashan village. fortunately a bus takes me down to the bus to xi'an. in it a number of people i passed along the way have been down and waiting for a bit. the bus has no plans of leaving until its full. the locals get into a heated fight with the driver after almost an hour of waiting. its noon. meantime, i return the flashlight, have a beer and charge my ipod. the locals continue to have words with driver on the way back who then gets his bucket of bolts stopped by the police for speeding. its about 3 by the time i am back in xi'an. i decide to stay over at the renmin flats for the night... clean up and have a great mongolian meal at kane's cafe. kane is from inner mongolia. his buddy ocean is too. ocean says mogolians speak good english. i ask them about where to go, what to do and ocean says that the place to go is datong. its a coal town north in shanxi on the fringes of inner mongolia. but it has good buddhist caves and is only 7 hours out from beijing. whats good enough for ocean is good enough for me. in exchange for the tip i offer to send him names of websites with funny english stories that he can translate to chinese for money. i ask the travel agent at the renmin flats to book me a soft sleeper to datong the next afternoon. then i go back to kane's cafe to rent a bicycle. there is a girl there from xining who wants to share a beer. i go along. she strikes up a conversation, i go along. she works for a tea company, balances books, has a husband and a five year old son. i find that as i hunt through my phrasebook for responses that the personal space around me is steadily shrinking. i leave as gracefully as i can, with two tea bags and a handshake. ride around town for a bit but i am exhausted. so much so that a big neon KFC is appealing. i succumb to the craving. xi'an and even smaller chinese towns have been overrun by col. harland sanders. no motivation to see the sights, i make it back to the room and crash.
the next morning the travel agent has no ticket. none available. i offer him an extra 50rmb for a soft sleeper. no luck. he comes back in half an hour with a hard sleeper on a slower train for a 30rmb surcharge. the rest of the morning i am a good tourist. i go to the museum and then on a wild goose chase. two wild good chases actually. a small wild goose chase and then a big wild goose chase. only time enough to see the small wild goose pagoda though. its 10rmb. inside is a tall many storied pagoda. there are many couples and equally many wedding photographers at work in the park surrounding the pagoda. i am still not sure where the goose was but it must have been there if i had climbed to the top of the pagoda. the chinese sign with english below said. "10rmb extra for mounting wild goose". i save my 10rmb for a cab ride back to the bell tower. lots of great english in xi'an. still wonder the purpose of the "half past eight friend changing club" and the sign that says "historical relics can not resuscitate. everyone is duty bound." eat lunch at the may first hotel... dumplings of various kinds and then this fried pork sandwich. leave at 3pm for datong. the hard sleeper line for the train is a mile long. i make my way a long way to the front of the line from the side and ask if this train is headed to datong making sure it takes longer than the trip to and through the gate to understand the answer... being lost can be an advantage. the hard sleeper is the equivalent of the indian reserved second class. i have the top bunk, where the heat comes in through the roof a foot from your face and cigarette smoke rises from the bottom to greet you. but between my passport laden pocket and the 3rd tier grime is a cold landmark comfortably open and beckoning, wedged using a technique mastered a long time ago. my knees are still laughing from the trip up and down huashan. below a sea of nail clippers go clickety clack. a number of locals i come across over the course of the fortnight have nail clippers dangling from belts, pockets, keychains which they use effectively mostly to mark time. i sleep well in trains. its a slow train, stops at a number of stations. lots of cities called du's. fenglingdu, gladtomeedu... the great khans capitals stretched from daidu to xanadu. the trip to chengdu will have to wait for a longer trip which will surely go by the little town of lijiang. the mongol capital in india lies hidden in the mists of time in the underground city of gandu. drift off to a killer live slide solo on lafayette railroad. wake. its 6am. hard sleeper folk are curious. before long they know where i am from, where i have been... pleasantries dealt with questions switch to indo-pak relations, kashmir and the dalai lama. they give me tea, a piece of cardboard bread and offer filterless cigarettes. they want to hear some indian music. all i have on my ipod is nusrat fatty khan and the soundtrack from jism. they are impressed. its 7am i freshen up... toothpaste and beer gargles are a bad combination no matter how light the lager. am off the station in datong. a man comes up to me officially as i exit the station flashing a badge and clandestinely says "i am CITS. i take you on tour". i say i have to get a ticket to beijing first. he points me at the ticket booth and says come back for tour. i say ok. i get a ticket for a midnight train back to beijing. no soft sleepers available on short notice, even from the poor coal mining town of datong.
i ask for a bus to yungang shiku, the buddhist caves from the wei period in 400AD. i am told to go to a place called xinkaili and change. the caves are impressive. there are 40 odd caves in all, lots of sanskrit words, shiva statues and other connections with the roots of buddhism in india. i should have taken the CITS tour. its the only way to conveniently get to the hanging monastery. a japanese tour bus is happy to take me but they dont go to the hanging monastery till the day after. just as well... its on the way to a mountain called wuteishan, which i will have to visit on a subsequent trip. the main caves 6-7 have the blue hair, red lip buddhas that one sees a fair bit of in china. these are protected by barriers. caves 1-3 are older, either incomplete or in disrepair but imposing in their natural formations and lack of people. spend a good hour sitting and the base of the giant buddha eating pringles. never has a tin of sour cream and onion carried me an entire week... every chip counted. outside the caves there are a couple of gritty roadside setups... umbrellas, plastic chairs, chao mein and piju. breakfast! ...and a place to charge the ipod, which had got stuck on jan garbarek all morning. the bus back goes by the jinhuagong coal mine. i hop off on a impulse. outside there is a gate, a facade to a small city that looks like the set of a bruce lee film like big boss. there is not too much to marvel at here admist the soot, squalour and bewildered smiles but a satisfying feeling, knowing that you have just provided the entertainment of the day, possibly the week. staying any longer than the half hour wandering the complex would risk being eventually approached by an emboldened security guard or result in a permanent change of skin tone. back in datong, there are all of three touristworthy sights. the hunyuan monastery, the drum tower that forms the center of most walled chinese cities and jiulong bi - the green dragon screen. the monastery is impressive. as is the screen. but mostly datong is a soulless city covered in a dreary shroud of coal dust. shomik's impression of chinese cities being soulless corrupt economic monsters - charmless - a constant mix of south extension and lajpat nagar, seems to hold here. buried stones can be mined only to be burnt or owned. stones that float above can only be borrowed only for as long as they are used. in datong all that hangs is soul dust. on the outskirts they dig it. mule carts cart it in big long pieces. oversized drawing sticks for the gods of caricature. half the country here wears uniforms to serve or dominate the other half that wears the same uniforms the other half the time. work progresses in efficient shifts. muzak permeates the pores of the chinese infrastructure. its piped through the trains, the mines, the parks. richard clayderman is the man in datong where coal train has no connection to a saxophone. next to the green dragon screen is a church i stumble upon. totally chinese looking on the outside, completely latino on the inside, the vibrant colour scheme lifted straight off a costa rican parrot. on the main road old men are watching a cosmetic company sponsored roadside show. mostly they are watching time tick. i do the same. then i go looking for food. pick the fanciest looking restaurant i can find and order 4 dishes at random. two are great, one edible and one bad luck. then next door to the dvd/cd store. surprisingly this store has a better and wider selection of english music than the ones in beijing. the jazz section in most beijing stores is equal to "the excellent hits of kenny G". come away with 5 discs to add to the score that i have left behind in beijing. i find myself subconsciously drawn with a nostalgic fondness to funky bars in unexpected places. go down into the basement of bar something or the other. it has warm beer and all the ambience of a dark urinal. keep looking... the "black bright bar" is a funky establishment run by a kid who is living out a dream. here tucked just off bei dajie (north road. one of four main roads in most walled cities) a few souls float perilously close to the main drag risking incineration and entrapment. the place is "cool" even though their beer is warm as well. there are a few trendily dressed college students. these guys dont go "hurro" and giggle. they mostly talk on cel phones and smoke their cigarettes but with a sense of enjoyment. the music is chinese and contemporary but interesting. not nasal but gritty, bluesy and with different sounding instruments. passing the phrasebook back and forth i gather its from or has some connection with urumuqi. the kid runs out and comes back panting in a few minutes with a 2CD set, the pinyin on it says dao lan. soon its 10pm and time for the train.
the beijing west railway station is the most enormous train station i have ever seen. at 6:30 in the morning it is bustling. grab some excellent dumplings at the local california beef noodle king chain and then its on to the tian hong plaza hotel for two nights of luxury. the hotel is next door to microsoft research asia, a powerhouse of smart people and workaholic students. a few good meetings two memorable meals. the best sichuan mapordofu ever... and the velvet glove is quite welcome after many days of chequered food and water. suffer through all of 5 minutes at the hotel bar "rumours" and the combination of george michael, a christmas song theme and some eager karaoke singers. find it hard to sleep outside of a train and the spagetti of broad gauge tracks. give a talk the next morning and then one with simultaneous translation to a sea of animation students at the beijing film academy. yinquin from MSR and the dean of the animation school are too kind. dinner at the academy is great. worth every tiny bone i pick out from this steamed and seriously spicy fish. the following morning yinquin and a traditional artist-animator huang take me to the weekend market at panjiyuan where they help me pick out a few things. the market is amazing, mostly chinese with a few foreigners and everything from red army surplus, to tibetan tankas to shards of original and fake ming pottery. i am left at the airport with this absolute display of kindness and an old statue of the honest man guangong. from there the airport can only be a downer with its 90rmb tax, to the hour long sars screening line to being stripped off hand carried alcohol... an empty mickey of edelweiss schnapps i was carrying as a souvenir and bottle of chinese red wine "paris of france" once again bought for keeping on a wall instead of drinking. the man says its against chinese culture to carry jiu on board. just past the checkpoint is the sea of duty free with every form of alcohol known to man, for the buying of and for the carrying on board of... an eight hour flight to vienna and i am at the deutschmeister hotel. just had a chicken omlette and orange juice for dinner at a yugoslav run establishment around the corner from the hotel. now nini is coming...
wake up 4 am to t.v. snow and an overhead light that had squinted my eyes shut so tight they hurt. i sleep better on trains than in hotel rooms. the room smells like a smokestack. then i realize its not the room but me from an hour in the yugoslav gasthaus. the hotel room is actually quite nice on the top floor of a traditional austrian building. look out over other rooftops from the window of the deutschmeister... 5am, may as well go running. the deutschmeister hotel is at rossauer lande, right by the canal. run along it to a point just beyond schwedenplatz till the path dead ends, then retrace in the other direction to the end as well. walk 5 mins and run the rest back... all in run about 8 songs.... 6, a break and two more... coldplay is not quite the right rhythm for my pace though. breakfast at the hotel is great with a kind lady who brings me a pot of coffee every day of my five days there. stop by the austrian center to pick up registration stuff then go walk around the palace, the cathedral... nick cave's morbid gospel makes for an excellent soundtrack walking through the 4 or 5 churches inside the ring before i saturate... not before the buildings assert their grandeur in making one feel quite small and insignificant. walk around a photo exhibit outside the museums quarter. get in touch with ravin. they are going to the opera... meet ravin and jen in the line for 3.50 standing room tickets for wagner's parsifal. something about romance and the holy grail. the sets and costumes seem to echo monty pythons treatment of the holy grail but the voices and orchestral music is amazing. standing like sardines for an hour and a half of the 5 hour opera is all we can take. its parsifal or my back. we walk to a brauhaus called bieramt and have a great dinner of ribs and sparnferkel and some pasta with cheese austrian dish. next day i go running again this time to once upon a time in the west... the pace is slower and more in tune with my legs. in the morning i see a special kandinsky exhibit. there is something engaging about his abstract art... maybe the choice of colors broken by seemingly random black lines. then on to the leopoldsmuseum for a special exhibit of egon schiele and horst janssen themed eros, death and the self. i have never, ever been moved by artwork as i was by schiele and janssen. schiele was a true original taking klimt and pushing it beyond the edge only to die as jimi hendrix at the early age of 28. janssen was more contemporary and a master of many styles, one of which follows schiele's footsteps. janssens death etching series was fantastic. the rest of the museum was impressive too... klimt's life and death, schiele's transfiguration, boeckl's portrait of josef von werthermstein, richard gerstl, oskar kokoschka and the earthy figures of albin egger lienz. make it back to the conference center to help steve tsang practice his talk, then go to dinner with the group and martin peternell. martin is a mathematician at the technical university in vienna that i met at the conference in beijing. he takes us to a place in university area called aa-ka-ha or alteskrankenhaus, the old hospital that now serves beer and schnitzel. martin is a brave man, living as a teetotaling vegetarian in a land of beer and sausage. after dinner some of us go to schwedenplatz in search of live music. stumble upon a place called jazzland. its a basement grotto with a dude called konrad windisch growling out the blues with a mild german accent. its a great set ending with everyone piping in to the heidi, heidi, heidi, hi... of minnie the moocher. its freezing outside... ingenuity with technology, i turn my laptop on to keep me warm as i walk 15 mins back to the deutschmeister. attend some talks in the morning, catch up on work and austrian style curry laksa for lunch. the chi reception in the evening is in the vienna town hall. an impressive ballroom straight out of the sound of music. have a beer after the reception with this designer whose name translates to wool cupboard and then bump into bill buxton and his apostles at a cafe near stephansplatz. arguing with bill is a foolhardy but most engaging past time... this particular evening we talk about golf swings and dominant hands. wed. morning... go running for 4 tragically hip songs. the right knee is giving me trouble. attend talks, attend email, and guide the troops in the evening to a place called fischerbrau on billrothstr. in the 19th district, recommended by sophie... the friend of a friend from shanghai that i never met. her recommendations are all fantastic. the food at fischerbrau is amazing. thurs. morning, martin drops by the hotel. i leave him with a package of chinese acquisitions to be collected later and we have a cup of coffee. check out and head to the museum of old musical instruments. the most amazing strings, horns and gilded keys that you will ever see. one particular horn called a serpent is stuck in my head. go back to the leopold museum to stare at schiele and janssen some more. just make it back to the conference for a session of talks and then meet ravin's wife jen to go see the belvedere palace, the famous klimt "kiss" and some medieval art. the pick of the palace for me were these busts of toothless old men in mirth by someone ... xavier messerschmidt, i think. back in town, back at the conference and then onto wien west and i am on a train to paris. ticket and passport checks at various points of time through the night. my extended passport with its additional visa pages seems to excite the polizei and they peruse it like it was the original gideon's bible. fri. morning and i am in gare d'lest.
paris of france... is what the bottle of wine said that i bought near xijiao and relinquished at the beijing airport. am in paris of france as opposed to paris of texas. pick up a key from helene's concierge and go for a walk. overdose on a cheese platter for lunch walk to pont neuf and back. go running to st. germain. too fast a pace but then i have to stop and start for directions on the way back having meandered out at random. shower and head out to meet aparna and her new fiance xavier for dinner at some comptoir du septieme joint at place d'ecole militaire. meet up with helene on the way and we end up being quite late getting to the restaurant. the food and wine is good. one enormous red steak whose particular name i forget. its a long walk back under the eiffel tower and beyond. vodka, tunes and stories back at the flat on rue de l'assumption. pass out exhausted on helene's jelly couch. up early. go get some roquefort and brie for breakfast. there is a chinese guy there with a goldberg machine making orange juice. get some and some muguet, little white flowers that are everywhere on may first. run through bois de bologne to pont de surennes, trying in vain to keep up with helene on skates. nap, tourist watch at a trocadero cafe over a killer capuccino. the beverage has three inches of chocolate covered foam that you could carve into the venus de milo. the years fashion colours are pink and green. have dinner in surennes with helene's wine fanatic friends. andre, joel, jean-francois and their wives anne, muriel and laurence... remarkable memory given that a bottle of wine was probably consumed for each name. andre has just spent six months getting a wine cellar in his cool art deco house. we start with champagne and little biscuit like things. then a langustine and asparagus appetizer with a revelation... a white wine that will stop me from badmouthing white wines forever. a strong dry chateau neuf du pape that has a golden colour and a hint of wood in it. then two burgundy wines... both from '97, the same grape similar area but different. these are sniffing wines... the kind that take you on a journey, almost forgetting the duck and kidneys on the plate in front. another white from the region near grenoble with cheese and a port of some sort from near perpignan to go with a strong blue cheese. the combination of the cheese and the port defies description or the tira misu that followed... struggle to make the morning train to grenoble.
picked up by marie-paule at the station. just as well, as i had no contact number or address. marie-paule and fabrice's house is in meylan a suburb of grenoble, the silicon valley of france. the parallel stop with the predominance of IT. grenoble is a cool old town in the valley of the chartreuse, vercors and bellesdonnes. three ranges in close proximity with a very different appearance. marie-paule's family was in tunisia... have couscous for lunch. hike fort st. eynard in the chartreuse with her in the evening. make a fire on the mountain. fabrice and the children are back in the evening. go running the next morning and hike gorge des brillants or something like that with waterfall in the evening. driving the vercors in the rain is fun. not quite as much fun as driving a cab in the chinese countryside but close. very close. eight year old violaine gives me a french lesson every evening. catch up on at work at inria at night. go into grenoble in the morning. have lunch at one of the oldest restaurants in france... cafe de la table ronde est. 1739. great painting of a man enjoying a beer on the wall. climb up to the bastille. have a bier affligem at a cafe near the ronde table next to the roman church in the old part of grenoble where the facade of the building in front was built to look symmetric even though its not. watch asterix and cleopatra with gerard depardieu as obelix in french. drive out into the vercors in the morning to pont des royans. lunch on regional ravioli and st. marcellan cheese at a little bistro. note to self... guignolet, pronounced gee-nyo-lay is a port wine of sorts. from there to absolutely amazing limestone caverns at choranche. from there its back to pont des royans and a one lane road tunnelled through the mountain. its a canopy of elephant trunks. work late at the lab. the next morning is spent at inria, giving a talk, doing demos, watching demos... all good. ditto friday. sat. morning i am on the TGV to paris. spend the afternoon at a morrocan dive near gare de l'est hunched over a smoky bar counter doodling on a serviette. i share my my knowledge of berber which amounts to two swear words and one sentence... munsch ki say znd zee likh... how much willl you sell your *** for... *** is some relative, which, parent or child, i forget. sip on an old favourite the cheapest vin de pays l'herault, a 2 euro gift from the morrocan dude, and a baguette bought at the station on the train to vienna as i type this. doodle transcribed from serviette.
the roamers dream
i know my lord in this fine world,
there are but two kinds of folk.
those that settle and those that roam.
and though my feet should take me far,
past nomadic routes untravelled,
chasing every shooting star,
there comes a time when the feet are slow,
when heaven above is hell below.
and though the heart continues to roam,
the head now looks for a home,
where to lay its weary self,
if only for a while.
as the years go galloping by,
with every passing mile.
a cold pint, a warm fire,
a disarming smile, a dangerous touch,
a pair of dry socks, a velvet crutch.
visions of a home out on the road,
to fuel the feet and lighten the load.
i know my lord in this fine world,
there are but two kinds of folk.
those that do and those that dream.
and though my mind should take me far,
past unconjured fields of thought,
chasing every random blip,
disappearing into nought.
there comes a time when dreams stagnate,
when an eight upside-down,
is still an eight.
and though the head continues to roam,
the heart now looks for a home,
reality within a picture frame,
if only for a while.
as the years go galloping by,
with every passing mile.
fingers run through fragrant hair,
welcome eyes, a hand to hold,
dreams lined with a band of gold.
visions of a road leading home,
fuel the feet some more to roam.
up at 5 to a hullabaloo at the salzburg station. hop off in linz at an impulse. the supermarkets are closed on a sunday. the florist by the bahnhof is open. sitting by the side of the road with a leffe and a salami cheese sandwich i gain a new appreciation for flowers and people that by them. they come in all shapes and sizes, the people and the flowers they buy. linz is pretty dead at 6am on a sunday so i take the next train to vienna.
ok, got to go, i hear my train coming...
28th may morning, run a steeple chase in vienna... ariport to landstrasse to wien westbahnhof to train to brussels, a stack of dominoes just waiting for a five minute delay. find hotel mozart on ave. marche aux fromages as carl's email said... the reception dude is convinced that carl is in the room, so we knock, rap, enter, look over and under the 10 foot room for a man of viking proportions. find carl as agreed upon, sipping hoegaardens at hourly intervals at the king of spain. get a donner kebab and one beer at the corbeau. one beer at 10pm which continues to 15 beers at 3am still at the corbeau with a group of young party hard deaf and dumb folk dancing on tables, an eggheaded belgian accountant and a schoolteacher named eileen. they should name a kebab and beer combo in brussels a "mergueze". the day starts at noon with the wade robson dance party weekend on m.t.v. we drive to brugge, climb the belfry with the amazing carillon, and the necessary beers and salami and cheese to keep the engines running. am in bad shape when we get back but nevertheless a carb rich dinner for the impending race must be consumed. a big honking carbonnade stew with mashed potatoes. the morning of the race, the 25th anniverssary of the bxl 20km. we wake to find the car has been towed. never get a car towed in brussels, its expensive! buy stuff, the castafiore emerald in flemish, and bananas for the race. given that i forgot to register for the race and the website is full we decide to share the running. devise a devious number exchange at the 10km point. at the start point in merode numbers are easy to be had so we are now committed to 20km each... the scene is magic as they fire off 25,000 people on a wet grey rainy day to the sound of coldplay's clocks. the first 4km go unnoticed. then the tunnels start and my back begins to complain. around 7km i am struggling to keep up with carl. around 10km i have transitioned from a jog to a sprint-walk cycle like a sine wave around carl who keeps plodding on at an even keel. around 12km i am ready to meet my maker and then these orange energy drinks they handed out along the way kick in. literally fly for 4kms then grind through the remaining 3 and sit down five feet from the finish line to wait for carl. the dude at the finish line is screaming at me, "allez, allez, allez... you cain dooo eeet..." carl plods up and we cross the line together as decided. buy t-shirts, eat apple, and head straight for the burbs to recover towed car! one quick burger and a few beers later we are the rock and roll bar. bxl is rampant with disco bars. then to a good italian meal of beef tongue lasagna. one beer at the amazingly demonic halloween bar and we are on the road again. its 2am in lille, the hotels are sold out and we take what we can get. carbonnade for lunch, lille is lit up like shanghai and overrun with tourist busses. good fountain for feet dipping, great old market for old french books. judge and buy a few buy their cover! head to caen in normandie. caen has a great vibe... find an irish bar with great live music and trivial pursuit in french at midnight. it is the week of the 60th anniversary of the invasion of normandie so its not even worth checking for a place to stay in caen. but there is a 24hour sandwicherie and its great to roam around the ruins of gothic cathedrals at 2am. the most impressionable little buildings i have seen to date were that night. the walking around this time is more like lurching with all the lactic acid swilling in the limbs so its back in the car and on to britanny and st. malo where we find an etap formula 1 type capsule hotel. st. malo is a singularly uninspiring walled town. its walls were intended to attract tourists and then keep them in there. for a breton town they have no breton books, so we drive another couple of hours to st. bruiec on a successful mission to secure "the castafiore emerald" in breton. st. bruiec is a bigger and nicer version of st. malo. then its back to caen for some great buckwheat galletes and on to rouen which we hit at midnight. train and ferry timings and distances dictate a parting. one beer at the big ben, the only bar that is open past midnight in rouen, not far from the giant cathedral and i break off at the station leaving carl another couple of hours to calais, a ferry, a couple of hours to heathrow, a plane to new york to dc and eventually to san jose, costa rica. another truly excellent adventure comes to an end. an email from carl a couple of days later...
> I have safely arrived back at lovely eHorse.com ...
> The drive from Rouen to Calais was perfect; got there with 1/2 hour to spare in the line, which I used quite
> effectively, repacking stuff in the trunk and wolfing down the hazelnuts N bittersweet cote d'or. Crashed
> on a bench on the boat and probably got 45 minutes sleep. Got into Heathrow without event (except got
> lost getting to the rental car return at Heathrow and had to navigate through a tunnel which I swear was
> designed for golf carts); had about 1/2 hour to spare once thru the various lines. Passed out on the flight
> for a solid 5-6 hours, spent the last bit chatting with a middle-aged upper-class Nigerian lady.
> Conflicts in the North, oil exploration, politics, development, genetically modified crops ... good
> stuff. Out to the Budget rental place, got the car, whoo hoo No Problem .... then Doofus locked himself
> out of the little booth from which the exit gate is operated. It took a good half hour and 6 people to
> find the extra key, I swear one of 100 in a white metal round cookie tin. The tin itself was unknown
> except to a manager who had to be fetched from somewhere far away. Then when I finally thought I was
> set ... he couldn't get the little slidey window open. Another 10 minutes just for him to decide to flick it
> in and shout throught he glass. *sigh*. Then zoom down to DC, stopping on the way for heavenly coffee
> and the world's best ham cheese and hot pepper grinder (for reference: exit at the North East / Rising Sun
> off of I95; head toward North East (that's the town name) for 2 minutes; it's a liquor store / deli on the
> right. The Best. Good beer selection too). Once into Reston, after taking almost-forgotten back roads
> to avoid horrible rush hour, stop at Best Buy and the supermarket (which no longer has full-serve checkout,
> at all!) to get replacement camera (upgrade: DSC-P100 instead of -P10 - has 30 FPM video!), a couple DVDs
> for kiddlies, fennel, ancho and chipotle pepper power, to Nimble's, see little Anyita who promptly and
> obediently goes immediately to beddiebye -- 180 degrees from Cata, this one -- chat w/Matt and Anj ...
> Matt and I escape to go see Alex but detour thru Cheesesteak place in Georgetown, eat best cheesesteak
> in years, get to Alex's about midnight. Alex is under the weather in a major way; other wise woulda been
> Brickskeller. Chat, drink the Negra Modelo I bought at the sub shop and Anchor Steam which Alex has
> provided; chat about antics at the Budapest Reception, current Bxl etc trip, work, life, politics, etc.,
> realize that everyone is asleep, bid adieu for a few weeks and zoom back 2 Matt's. Sleep from 2-5, up,
> zoom out, uneventful ride to Newark (saved from dozing by another heavenly coffee and a Nathan's Dog), get
> there with more than an hour to spare; pass out thru pretty much the entire plane ride. Voila, home,
> sleep, come to work.
my journey is somewhat shorter... a 2 hour train ride to paris that does not leave till the morning. the station however is locked. walk up with pack and all up some little dingy residential streets at the back of the station and come across some rocking youssou n'dour. right behind the station is a blacked out place that says quelquechose d'afriques. the only beer they have is a tequila enriched desperado. i have one and hang out till they close up at two. its dark in there. there is a group of young african guys over 6 and a half feet tall, celebrating a birthday and a sugar daddy in the corner taking liberties with a heavily painted woman. settle into a corner by the side of the station to avoid the drizzle and kill the four hours till the train. a couple of drunken bums in the distance are doing the same. half awake when this guy comes up to me and asks me why i am not in a hotel and whether i need some money for it. then he goes and has a fight with the hotel boy across the street and comes back to say that he is a proud arab and will not live in a racist hotel where they wont allow another arab in to share the room. the room apparently was his and the other arab apparently was me. he is a good muslim and takes care of his own as allah told him to do. so he spits in their racist face to come and spend the night in the street with his bretheren. he is morroccan. speaks arabic, spanish and french, of which i speak none. i tell him i am indian and he breaks out into some song i barely recognize as hindi. he knows amitabh bachan. he works in barcelona. is married and divorced. has a little girl in morrocco. has a spanish girlfriend in barcelona who he will never marry because they are culturally different. he has a construction business in barcelona with four brothers and two friends. they do the work, he has the cabeza, he says. he is el patron, the jeffe, he says. he was in le havre on vacation. he is 36. i learn a lot about him except his name through a delirious 3 hour dialogue in a melange of french and spanish. its cold and windy then the station opens at 5 am and i am on the first train to paris st. lazare. check in at helenes but she is not there so i leave bags with maria dos santos, the concierge. sleep in the park at bois de bologne and then walk to the eiffel tower with wine and a baguette to rendezvous with chris landreth at 2pm. chris has just taken the train up from rome after picking up a few prizes at cannes. meet helene in the evening and get dinner near la muette. spend the next afternoon with sari, the screenwriter of an israeli film "or" that just won the camera d'or at cannes. head to montemartre, le sacre coeur and my favourite little crepes place near the moulin rougue in pigalle. do a little dog and pony show with chris at an animation school, gobelins, and then race to make a showing of ryan and the film "or" at the cinematheque across from the cinema rex. meet up with zain, a guy who happened by a party at my place in toronto last christmas at the trocadero around midnight. pompidou center in the morning and chris and i are on a train to strasbourg. strasbourg is an amazing town. find an etap across the station... and an excellent alsacian restaurant "au sanglier". a sanglier is the nice juicy porker that lines the feast tables in asterix. or maybe i am confusing it with a cochon sauvage. anyway, all this after accidently stumbling upon and sitting through an hour long concert by the stuttgart boys choir playing with a full chamber orchestra in a big concert hall/church like building. the strasbourg cathedral is similarly remarkable, a red stone, with incredibly detailed work on the building. walking through the quiet rainy streets we come to the strains of music coming out of restaurant alem, something about anatolian specialities underneath it. an hour and two raki's later we continue to be mesmerized with the duo on stage, a man with a guitar and one with a bazouki like instrument with a larger soundbox and a fuller sound than a bazouki. both have incredible booming voices and are singing up a frenzy. we can only conclude that is the rock opera tommy in turkish. the overture goes on for about 20 minutes and just when you think they are going to stop they transition to "its a boy mrs. walker, its a boy". the audience comprising a few turkish family tables and us chime in with handclaps from time to time but we are way short of the energy on stage. stay about an hour or the duration of the opus and a shorter follow up. the next day is spent largely in trains. strasbourg to lyon to st. gervais to chamonix. its past 10pm when we get to chamonix and find a brit run backpacker, the red mountain lodge. chamonix at the foothills of mont blanc is more commonwealth than french. english can be heard in four distinct accents here... brit, aussie, kiwi and american. hear very little french. snarf a giant cheeseboiger at le midnight express. do a good 3 hour hike to brevent the next morning. coming down is a gambling game... run and save your knees risking ankle twisting or walk, saving the ankles and destroying the knees. i pick the former and chris the latter. beers and chinese food at a chinese dump in town. the chinese place is almost expectedly disappointing. the next morning i am in annecy.
the conference is great. small, good papers, run with ruthless efficiency, little croissants and pain de chocolate to go with the coffee. in the evening we attend the first screening of ryan at the film festival competition. we are carefully seated in the red chairs at the front of the audience, ensuring we dont vote for our own piece, by not voting at all. sit next to a cool aussie jonathan nix who has a 6 minute film, hello, in the competition. anyone with a last name nix has to be cool. he is a one man animation show. next to him is a guy who looks suspiciously like the creator of the mouse. its roy disney. the response to ryan is great and chris gratefully shakes hands in between scraps dipped into fondue raclette after. one of the hand shakers is gene deitch, the creator of tom and jerry. cool beans. stay up till midnight staring at a laptop helping patrick fine tune his presentation. morning and the slides are ready hand in hand with a very nervous patrick, giving his first major conference presentation. fortunately there is a bottle of wine close at hand at lunch. good slides, patrick and said bottle of wine in patrick makes for a good presentation after lunch. that evening the conference has a cruise around the lake... like most cruises the views are spectacular with shitty food and music to accompany it. afterwards we find a party at a castle thrown by some tv series launch to crash. there are stilts, dragons and firewalkers. another presentation on ryan the next morning, some papers, the conference is done and i am on a train back to paris. ryan ends up winning the jury prize at annecy, coming in second to the disney piece lorenzo. i think maybe we were disqualified on account of our collective hair length. am going for the record on having stayed at the most pakistani ambassadorial residences around the world. zain is the safir's son. the house is a five storey museum near the champs elysses that once housed the mistress of napoleon the third. with three kitchens, a dozen odd bedrooms, stained glass art and a garage with a turntable to turn a parked car around, it is by far the oldest and grandest house i have ever seen. zains wood panelled room was haunted by the mistress until it was recently exorcised by a pir. dinner is fantastic, as is breakfast and lunch the following morning. the night was a long one involving a few bars and lounges in champs elysses. back at gare d'lest and back on the train to vienna. going home...
the travellers dilemma
a traveller was making his way,
past a field of concrete hay,
the bales were yellow from rust and rain,
squat grey bundles of mangled metal.
past the field was choice,
a spagetti of train tracks.
seperating the field of concrete hay,
from a pastoral conference of skyscraping crags,
delegates with interstitial name tags.
a cemetery of ideas up ahead,
a mausoleum of memories behind,
and a spagetti of tracks in-between.
multiple choice answers,
to a questionaire of future intentions.
of what might be,
to take the two-six-three.
or the adventure in store,
on the one-seven-four.
the traveller has a balance,
and a coin to counterbalance.
the traveller can weigh options,
with the coin, or simply flip it,
or flip the coin,
to weigh options or flip a coin,
and most likely, miss the train.
in vienna bright and early. pick up stuff left behind from china from martin peternell's office at the UT. spend the morning pottering about the musuem of modern art and the goya exhibit at the leopold. the actionist movement floor gunther brus and his buddies are a grotesque eyeopener. the outdoor exhibition of yann arthus bertrand aerial earth photographs is nice... subway, cat, plane, bus, subway, home.