Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Sometimes a cigar is a penis covered in brains October 2, 2008

Something Viennese
Something Viennese

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the town that gave us Sigmund Freud seems to have some serious issues with sex.

As I’ve mentioned before, I can only take so many paintings of Jesus or examples of the horrors of communism and the Holocaust before my brain turns to goo. However, let me loose on some Roman ruins or modern art, and I can go all day.

Or so I thought. Having spent a chunk of the day in the Museumsquartier here in Vienna, I’m no longer feeling so bold and invincible. I visited two of the museums– the Leopold and The Museum Moderner Kunst (MUMOK). The Leopold I went to for the Klimts. I don’t know about you, but there’s something so loving and vibrant and alive about his work, that I always feel cheered by looking at a Gustav Klimt. There’s a lot of nakedness, but it tends to be celebratory or even adoring. It’s the kind of art you can put in your living room.

Then you enter the MOMUK, and the worm turns. As far as I could tell, they don’t have any Rothkos or Pollocks, but what pulled me in was an exhibition called, “Bad Art, Good Painting.” I had read this article about John Currin early this year in the New Yorker. He’s a contemporary artist that applies classical painting techniques to his criticism of modern society, and to a great degree, to internet porn. So they’re like gorgeous oil paintings in the style of the masters…but of vulgar or exaggerated (like a lot of women with huge fake 48DDD boobs) stuff. I immediately recognized one of the paintings on the poster (Thanksgiving, featuring his wife at three different ages), so I was kind of fascinated to see his work in person.

That part was cool.

Unfortunately for me, it was “bring your screaming, yelling, incorrigibly obnoxious middle-schooler to the super-sexed up modern art museum” day. Needless to say, they were very excited to not be at school. Otherwise, minus some semi-disturbing movies they discovered in the basement level, they couldn’t give a rats @ss about the art. This was both a relief, and kind of surprising, considering some of it. I suppose they felt as awkward as I did.

As for the highlight of the day (despite the “Me Tarzan, You Jane” exhibition name of “Bad Art, Good Paintings”), what I found particularly interesting were the pieces by Julian Schnabel. I know him more as a filmmaker than an artist, and I wasn’t familiar with his work. I guess he’s famous for his plate art (which I’d never seen), and the size, scale, and subject matter were compelling. I also liked this guy Asger Jorn who bought cheesy paintings at garage and estate sales and painted over them. it was kind of disrespectful and funny at the same time. I took some pictures, and I swear I’ll post them one of these days…


(The Asger Jorn painting I promised. I find this amusing.)

Then it was time to descend to the lower levels for ‘The Factory’, and that’s when things get weird. Like serial killer art weird. Words fail me, but I started out thinking, “Wow. That’s disturbed. Or f-ed up. Or just wrong” and then I started averting my eyes and hoping to stumble into an exit. Or down a flight of stairs. Whatever.

There were things like videos of people mutilating themselves. And some seriously creepy stuff done to women. And male genitalia. Like male genitalia surrounded by brains. I don’t know whose brains or whats brains, but brains. It was messed up overall. Seriously, some John Wayne Gacy clown art would have fit in very comfortably at the MUMOK.

All I can say, is that from the looks of things, the Viennese are grappling with some serious issues. Dr. Freud, get in line for reincarnation, because they need you. Bad.

As for me, I just hope I don’t have nightmares. I once had an acupuncturist suggest that my stress levels were tied to my great love of the Law and Order TV show (the original, with Jerry Orbach as Lenny, although I will watch the other derivations in a pinch). And that even though it wasn’t real (although it is ‘ripped from the headlines’) that watching all that bad stuff happen was messing me up (basically). It that’s the case, I could use an exorcism to purge what I’ve seen today.

I paid 17 euros to look at THIS!?

I paid 17 euros to look at THIS!?

After escaping the sadomasochistic horrors of the local Viennese modern art scene, I headed for the museum shop. I love museum shops, and the MUMOK didn’t let me down. Actually, it did, but in a good way. It was more or less like the knick knack section of your average Urban Outfitters (they had the Jesus band aids I bought there – only five times more expensive).

Thus, the only thing I was drawn to were these weird toys called “Parasite Pals.” In particular, they had this super cheap (as in cheaply made. The price tag? Not so cheap) “Zzeezz the BedBug” flashlight. Bedbugs are nocturnal, so I guess this was to root them out? Only it didn’t work, so maybe not?

Anyway, what made it so funny was the awkward English explanation, “Here is the girl with small friends of life present for always. Some irritation she finds with them, but much fun and love is to be shared!”

As for Zzeezz himself, it is explained, ‘Zzeezz is happy to be living inside the bed. He is always tired from many biting.”

So true, so true. So many biting. So many blood. It’s a hard knock life for a bedbug.

In the morning I head to Budapest, and I am truly freaking excited about it. Last time I was there, I got so overwhelmed I more or less high-tailed it out within hours. But from everything I’ve read, I think it will be super cool.

In particular, the Turkish baths. Having carried about 40% of my body weight on my back for the last two months, I am looking forward to it! Tomorrow it’s women-only at the Kiraly baths, and then I’m thinking of hitting the Rudas baths on Sunday before my night train (I like to be stress-free before giving would-be train thieves the American beat down). I’ve never been to a Turkish bath before, so I was very relived to pick up these quick tips on the Hungarian Tourist Board website:


  • Involuntary urination or defecation problems
  • Infectious diseases
  • Virulent phase of locomotor diseases
  • Tumour diseases

I’m blissfully unaware of any tumour diseases (I’ve said it before – ignorance IS bliss!!), and hopefully my locomotor diseases remain non-virulent, and I’m given the green light to soak it up. Assuming all goes well, you can look forward to my ultra-mellow, mineral-rich update manana from Budapest, where hopefully a cigar is just a cigar…



My Super Dolce 16 September 22, 2008

First off, I would like to suggest that we give me a small pat on the back and perhaps a moderately loud round of applause for not once utilizing the phrase “when in Rome” while in Rome. This is not to say it didn’t occur to me. A lot. But I am ever-conscious of you, the reader, and thus try to maintain some high standards. This, of course, does not allow sinking to or utilizing that which is cliche, trite, predictable nor mundane.

You didn’t know this about me? Well, bion giorno, and welcome to the brave new world. Now finding myself supersaturated in the super powers of the glorious works of the Renaissance masters, I too am now an artiste. Oh yes, gone are the stories about fears of peeing on myself in creepy bus station bathrooms. We will only be talking about reliefs and frescoes and Machiavelli and Medici and meringue and merengue and creme fraiche. That’s right. Bust out the good china, because it’s a whole new fancy ball of wax.

This new leaf turned, you might be surprised to learn I just spent the last half-hour watching “My Super Sweet 16” on Italian TV. This is 100% because there is a TV in my room, and – from there – 99.9% because it was the only thing in English. And for the first five minutes, it was a treat to listen to someone talk without having to concentrate.

But then what they were actually SAYING started to get processed. “Ummm…did you just say someone was coming to give your dog LOWLIGHTS!?” “Can you repeat that? If Kanyae West doesn’t jump out a cake at your 16th birthday party, you’re going to take a semi-automatic weapon to your private spoiled monsters high school and kill everyone?” (Although, upon deeper analysis, this might not be such a bad thing…)

I can only hope this show is kind of a joke. Something like, “I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you aren’t really a sociopathic self-centered waste of space like you’re portrayed on this show.” I hope… If not, then I guess this starts to solidify some of the reactions I get when I reveal I’m from the States. It also explains the “Shot at Love with Tequila Tequila” graffiti I saw in Poland. I’ll confess, I’m familiar with that travesty. I was – until it ended – a major “Rob and Big” fan. I have a deep appreciation for the absurd, and there ain’t nothing so absurd as keeping a mini horse in your house.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I saw “A Shot At Love with Tequila Tequila ” spray painted on a wall in either Prague or Warsaw. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what it meant, and kind of forgot about it. However, combined with “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” I recognize it as the Eastern European shorthand for, “REPENT. THE END OF THE WORLD IS AT HAND.” You mix this stuff in with Iraq and Jerry Springer, and it’s no wonder the world thinks we’re a bunch of war-mongering psychopaths…

So getting back to my small world, I almost bypassed Florence today in favor of Milan. Somehow I had the very inaccurate sense that it took three or four hours by train from Rome to Florence. I caught the 10:38, and I suppose I thought I’d get there around 14:00. So when the trained pulled into some station around noon and the lights turned out, I didn’t even look up from “Snowball fight”. I fought on, in vain.

You see, snowball fight is this extremely crappy game on my otherwise useless cell phone at which I am utterly hopeless. I slowed the speed down to 2 (out of ten), but I still get clobbered by the little jokers nailing my poor kid with snowballs. I can’t even figure out what I’m supposed to be doing to triumph in this situation. But I digress…

We’d sat there a couple minutes and my cellphone screen inevitably flickered, “YOU LOSE.” Out of curiosity, I glanced out the window. “Firenze.” Hmmmm…. Firenze. What’s that? Wait a minute… FLORENCE? FIRENZE? Florence = Firenze!?!?!?

I started frantically putting my stuff away, realizing that (I was pretty sure) this was my stop. As with my near miss in London, I leaped off the train right as it started to leave the station.

And thank god, because I’m damn tired, and it’s nice to have a room to myself, no matter how much it’s an amalgam of “Things IKEA didn’t actually think anyone would ever buy.” You see, the last three nights in Rome were rougher than I let on: The first I was fairly sick and could barely breathe, the second I was kept awake by the snoring of an inexplicably loud Australian woman (what is up with these log sawing ladies!?!?), and last night I was a plain old paranoid wreck. I got up no less than five times to violently shake out my sheets (top and bottom) and perform a bed bug exorcism.Actually, it may have worked. I’m damaged, but no worse feasted upon than I had been the day before.

Anyway, as is par for the course, Florence is lovely. The Duomo is like some kind of birthday cake I would have pined for as a little girl. My cold is fading. I have a vague cough, but nothing worse than anyone else in ‘smoke ’em if you got ’em’ Europe. And I’m dog tired, so off to saw some logs of my own, and talk to you tomorrow!


Never trust a bedbug to read the fine print September 21, 2008

I said they could bite so long as they didn’t bite me. I suppose it wasn’t the most clever approach to hope they would all vacate the room and head out with the grouchy Mexican girl. They didn’t. A few stayed behind and had their way with me. They feasted on my tender flesh, and I hope they all get food poisoning. Regardless, one more night, and I’m on to new things.

Otherwise, I’ve got no complaints with Rome…except maybe that it’s too damn good looking. I’m talking really, really, ridiculously good looking. And all of this breathtaking architecture and endless grandeur and utter magnificence and plain old splendor leaves me EXHAUSTED. I came around a corner on my way home today on a street called “Grecca” I believe, and there were a couple ruins and a magnificent fountain, and I found I couldn’t do it. I had lost the ability to pull my camera (now giving me the flashing empty red battery warning sign) out and take yet another shot of something remarkable. Rome has officially supersaturated my senses.

I’ve had all I can stands, and I can stands no more. I’m just going to hang out with the bed bugs in this dingy hostel until I can look at something carved or marble or Roman again without flinching.

In other news, I started my day with a long run. I’m a firm believer in sweating out what ails you, and I spotted a park-looking area to the south of where I’m staying (by the Coliseum). I found a nice long stretch of grass and dirt and like-minded folks. Plus, along the way, I was able to observe some authentic Roman exercise, and all I can say is yikes. I saw more strange things today than I know how to articulate: Not one but TWO men running with a body posture somewhat like that used to go under a limbo bar. A very heavyset man running with hand weights and flailing them about like you might if you were practicing really telling someone off for once and for all. Head to toe shiny spandex outfits straight outta ‘Xanadu.’

Then there was this jungle gym/obstacle course area, and all these super macho guys were there doing all sorts of goof ball stuff, but looking super-serious about it: Pull ups, flips, hanging from the knees, some primitive form of Jazzercise, etc. My favorite was the shirtless guy throwing punches in the air with intense ferocity. And me without my camera…

Afterward, I went to the Coliseum, and got a good jump start on my visual overload. I am so completely and utterly taken with the Coliseum. I could sit there and stare at it for hours. If I were a billionaire, particularly a super-eccentric one, I would build a Coliseum replica somewhere. I think the world could handle two of them. Put it somewhere like Flint, Michigan, where they could really use the tourism revenue.

So anyway, as I was wandering away from the ruins in pursuit of some pizza in the Travestere, I spotted a Peruvian band (of course)…and then another across the street. Dueling wind flutes. You ALWAYS see Peruvian bands. There must be a Peruvian band on the moon. You don’t always see them set up shop across the street from one another – it’s like Jets and the Sharks.

Anyway, the second band was blocking some particularly nice ruins, so I paused to walk behind them and take a picture when I heard an American ask one of the band members how much their CDs were. “10 Euro,” he replied. The questioner wandered away, and an unmistakable Long Island accent asked, “What’s the matter? You couldn’t Jew them down?”

Hey lady, you kiss your mother with that mouth? I’ve just spent the last three weeks knee-deep in the history of the six MILLION Jews killed during the Holocaust, and I think you can come up with a better verb (negotiate, bargain, haggle, compromise) than that. Yikes. Embarrassing. The next confused Italian who asks if I’m from England is going to get a proud, “Yes!”

I wandered for a solid eight hours today, and it was at around hour six – at the Pantheon – that the overload started to kick in. There were simply too many people, and they were pushing and elbowing their way into this ancient building like an angry mob. Someone gave my back what felt like a serious two-handed shove, and I had some uncomfortable memories of the Gimme Shelter movie. I don’t have any need to be part of an Italian reenactment of the Stones concert at Altamont. Especially not at a building that’s been around for 2000 years, and will most likely be here on some future visit. Thus, at this point some some temporary agoraphobia set in, and I bolted off to the Trevi Fountain.

God help me, the Trevi Fountain. It’s unreal. Have you SEEN this thing!?!?! The closest comparison we have in America is Caear’s Palace in Vegas (I know, that’s sad…) but Caesar’s doesn’t even come close. It’s glorious, and if it weren’t in a city with two hundred other amazing things, I might have even heard of it before yesterday.

All this gushing aside, I promise to get some pictures of these marvels up in the next few days, provided I can get through the night without requiring a blood transfusion or a gallon of DDT.