Monday, 11 January 2010

Anarchy in the B.K.

The anarchist festival. The CeNTenario put on by the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (C.N.T.), a still very active anarchist syndicate in Spain, was surprisingly well-organized. The beers were 9 euro which is una plena violación even in Europe. The upside was that I quickly learned the Spanish word for flask--petaca. The most powerful music was the cante jondo/flamenco singer José Domínguez Muñoz, also known as el cabrero because when he is not selling out shows in Tokyo, etc. he is tending to his goats. He played for this show apparently because he belongs to the anarchist organization. The next band I did not care for. The following group, Canteca de Macao, mixes ska, reggae and rumba rhythms with a kind of international gutter punk style (here termed perroflauta--check out the Frikipedia definition for more info on what that means). The final band was Siniestro Total which is an important band from the Movida Madrileña days. They played some anthemic songs that everyone sang along to. I felt like I was watching the Spanish version of R.E.M. Underground music that everyone knows the words to but even the jocks get embarrassed when one of their frat bros plays it at a party. But then again this was an anarchist festival.

As has been the custom at every outing so far, we all put in money towards what is called a "bote" which is used to purchase the drinks for the rest of the night. It basically seems to be a socialist social mechanism along the lines of from him who earns the most to him that drinks the most. I like this system.

I went to the festival with Edu, Molly, and Edu´s friends and Edu´s friends´ friends. The two I remember best were Benito and Angel. Benito actively participates in CNT activities to undermine corporate authority by, for instance, dumping manure in the middle of a supermarket, clogging department store pipes by pouring cement in the toilets and urinals, etc. He also likes to pull out his penis in public, or so I´m told. I guess I missed him doing it on the metro. The other guy was Benito´s friend Angel who, oddly enough, is a cop. Anyway, since the beer was astronomically priced we used the bote to split several rounds of Katxis which are massive beers.

When the show ended Benito and Angel got into a scuffle in front of a Burger King over whether or not we should all eat there. We did. Apparently authority and democracy still rules in Spain. I got a cheesy whopper, which is seriously the best invention in BK´s history--a whopper with a hockey puck-size of fried goat cheese on top of the meat.

So I guess between a burger monarchy and complete anarchy, I would choose the former, mainly because I find a cheesy whopper, fries, and a beer far more preferable to supermarket cow-shit and subway cocks.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Me gustas tu

I finally made it to Malasaña tonight for the first time in my life. We went to La via lactea after a pseudo-mexican meal and drinks at a bar across the street in Chueca that gave us gifts for the Día de Reyes. I got a white polo shirt that actually fit me and said "Sinsaciones" on the back. The tag that usually gives advice on washing told me to drink responsibly. Herman got a belt from Kukuxumuxu that said the same. Since when did clothes starting asking me about my business? And where are the bike lanes in this city for chrissake!?

Monday, 4 January 2010

Siniestro Total

I'm now in Madrid. I cut my finger on a jamón ibérico knife today. It gushed blood through 3 band-aids. Yesterday my hosts and good friends Molly and Eduardo brought me to an anarchist C.N.T. bar and the song playing on the stereo when we walked in was "Material Girl" by Madonna. This weekend we go to the anarchist music festival put on by the C.N.T. More blood and details to follow.

Monday, 8 September 2008

In the beginning...

I recently read an article from Adbusters about the state of the hipster union. I found it pretty engaging and damning. I most especially am interested in what led to all of this, because although hipster was always a derogatory word, the evolution of the contemporary hipster is a curious phenomenon. At what point did this subculture become so numerous and so enthralled in popular culture and the products pushed by mega-corporations like American Apparel? I think it was a reaction to the late-90s early 2000s desire to be into only the most obscure cultural production. A lot of this article was foreign to me as I have been quite disconnected from the internet’s sizeable contribution to the morphing of this generation since I don’t have internet at home and therefore spend very little time (5 minutes /day) connected with the virtual side of this world. I think this may be where everything went dreadfully wrong as well (not that there was anything all that useful being created/destroyed in the non-virtual world). The article mentions the marketing side of the reworked Barthian fashion semiotic, but ignores the more damaging element which is causing our society to slip into a new barbarity. The anonymity the internet provides allows for a great social mask and shows what this generation is capable of, especially in regards to the filching of the name. I’ve seen friends verbally chewed alive by faceless online slander, much of it done in the guise of lazy gossip by hipster chatters/bloggers. This is akin (though admittedly a bit more harmless) to the kind of shit that went on behind closed doors during the Spanish Civil War, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, or McCarthy’s America—you settle a score with a neighbor by anonymously denouncing him as a red/Jew/dissident, etc. Cowardly and vicious, but very effective, the new hipster may have evolved in a curiously ugly and vapid cultural manner, but is often caught displaying a real stagnation or even degradation of the spirit.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

My Blue Heaven

It’s my last Saturday here and I’m starting to grow a bit melancholic at the prospect of having to leave. Since I’ve been indoors for awhile packing and tying up ends, I decided to take a casual stroll through the city for a bit and then, for one of the first times since I arrived, I started to recognize the beauty of Lisboa behind its dirty façade.

I went to Rossio and did a 360, this route I take every day is like a ravine amongst a full-circle wall of buildings creeping up the hills complete with windows and dirty pastels. The occasionally ominous Castelo de São Jorge at the peak of the eastern wall, the Elevador de Santa Justa bolting up next to the ruins of the Convento de Carmo to the west. I pass through Martim Moniz (the metro stop that I use every day but couldn’t get the name right for three weeks) and the pathway by the Asian Mall where all the bums sleep and the familiar air of dehydrating urine makes me a bit misty-eyed. I pass by the elderly overweight tranny who has half her face paralyzed by a stroke (but according to my local grocer “was pretty hot in the first years after the dictatorship”) and she waves a coy hello. She actually saved me from going hungry one night when I went to the grocer with 20 cents to my name to buy a bola (a small ball of fresh baked bread for 17 cents). Since he had sold the last bag to tranny, he told me I could ask her, and she handed me one and said I looked too skinny and sickly.

There is a unique sound to the street here: the former dissidents who now have remained bitter and drunk for 30+ years that chatter in the square and feed the birds, the church bells each with their own tones and rhythms, the odd mufferless car, the click-clack of these two meter high billboards that constantly cycle through 3 different poster ads, and the pigeons, so many pigeons.

I spent so many afternoons reading on the beach in Estoril, a small villa outside Lisbon where Ian Fleming took notes on Yugoslav spy Darko Papov at the Estoril Casino to write his greatest work Casino Royale. It also housed the exiled Spanish Monarchy after the Second Republic was founded, a few years before the country exploded into a brutal Civil War. The castle beach was my favorite. Somehow, I never got a tan. I think my skin rejects the sun’s rays as an aesthetic choice.
I drifted often through Bairro Alto with my flatmates. Filled every night with drunks and fado or jazz spilling out of the bars, it was kind of like a slightly classier version of the warehouse district. There always seemed to be a puddle of puke every few blocks that added some color to the monochrome neighborhood and made you wonder who could vomit in such quantities.

During the mornings and early afternoon I would be in class at the Universidade de Lisboa. Many of the rooms had an inexplicable odor of wet dog hair. I wouldn’t say it was a very pretty campus. Every building was a sort of torn-up dirty white. Nevertheless, I did learn to speak Portuguese with near fluency in a very short time which I attribute to the underpaid genius of the teaching staff. During the final exams, my friend Harry didn’t let me down. He came in for two days with his arm in a sling that was signed all over in Chinese and Portuguese. All the signatures were done with the same pen and seemed to be in the same handwriting. The final day his arm had healed I guess because he didn’t need the sling anymore. I think he stole that idea from the John Candy movie “Spies Like Us”. He also kept belching loudly throughout the exam for some reason. I couldn’t stop laughing and had a hard time concentrating on my own test.

In between all this I would either wander through Lisbon or laze around at Casa Marvao. This house I’ve lived in is a bit filthy. It used to be a brothel for nearly a century and the bidets are still functional. After that it became a nursing home and I think for fifteen years now it has been slowly destroyed by Erasmus students and termites. My room is filled with graffiti in several different languages, most of it consisting of lame quotes that I guess were meant to be inspirational.

So that is my Lisbon, my blurry heaven, a bit tedious, a bit beautiful, a bit mind-bending, a bit ancient, nearly modern, still waiting impatiently for the return of D. Sebastiao, still doce, ainda abafada, abalizada, abarrotada, repleta, ocupada, brava, abobalhada, abrasada, alastrada chateada, cansada, alheia, vermelha, verdejante, ambigua, amena, amortecida, miserável, louvável, arraigada, atemorizadora, ativa, manuelina, gótica, avariada, aziaga, baldia, calda, campestre, bagunçada, barulhenta, cariativa, arregada, bêbada, coitada, colorida, congestionada, seria, simples, contradictoria, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Monday, 25 August 2008


Friday night we met Aurora, the Italian Linguistic Anthropology professor, for dinner in Bairro Alto. I had duck a la orange, which was perfect, and we shared a few pitchers of the house wine and clam apps. The night was quite odd. Mario, the only Asian from our class who joined us, asked if we wanted to join him afterward at a Karaoke bar in my neighborhood (Martim Moniz) with a few friends. A few of us agreed and I went alone with Mario to catch the metro to MM. En route he started to make some phone calls in Cantonese and over the course of our journey I discovered that we weren’t going to a Karaoke bar, but rather a rented room in the Asian district of the Socorro freguesia that specialized in private Karaoke in Chinese. First he told me that the “bar” was about a half hour walk from the metro stop (it was literally 30 feet away), and that it wasn’t a bar per se, but a room, and that there were no songs in English, and the phone calls he was making was to see if he could invite a few extra people. He tells me then that he plays in a band and I say, “like what, rock & roll?” And he doesn’t understand. He then asks me if there are any American musicians that are famous and before nearly fainting I say “have you ever heard of Elvis?” Negative. “How about the Beatles?” (I realized after a sober pause that they weren’t American but decided not to correct myself) Again, no. Then, as my head began to reel out of control, I asked him to please tell me the American bands he has heard of. He mentions the Backstreet Boys. My heart is palpitating and the Largo de Chiado is spinning around me as I try to digest all of this new information about my friend Mario. I am a bit speechless.

We get to Martim Moniz and he starts to walk to the Karaoke “bar” when I ask him, “shouldn’t we wait for the others?” Apparently he only asked his group if I could come and then Aurora pulls up with her boyfriend who also speaks Cantonese. He tells them they can come after all and when we arrive to the Karaoke spot 30 seconds later. We pass two Asian massage parlors going up one flight of stairs. Mario took the elevator. We meet him and walk in to see 7 Asian girls and one Asian guy singing (Sinatra’s version--obviously in English) “My Way”. So this is already three lies Mario has told me in the span of one hour. Most of the girls have some sort of headband with either leopard, cat, or Minnie Mouse ears attached and are dancing on the couch while singing a pretty accurate version of “My Way”. They immediately hand me the microphone because they said I looked like a young Sinatra. I, of course, immediately do the Sid Vicious version and they loved it and asked me to do another. I look at the table and am astonished that everyone is drinking canned tea. No drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes, just tea and dried fruits. I guess Karaoke was originally a fairly healthy event, and upon being exported to America it took on the format as another way to express oneself as a decadent, out-of-tune, lush.

The Asian girls sang two songs reading from a series of subtitles in characters I found incomprehensible. Then they asked me to pick a song. The only one I immediately recognized was “Hotel California”, which apparently is completely out of my range. You see, when I do Karaoke, I usually do songs I can perform spot on, like Rolling Stones songs, but this Eagles song (although I knew it backwards and forwards—enough to ignore all the misspellings and incorrect words written on the screen) was a real challenge for my vocal chords. I wasn’t asked to do another song for a few hours and so I tried to see if I could decipher this language as the characters flashed before my eyes repeated in front of images that I imagined were conveying the meaning of the song. I realized later when I was finally asked to do another song that the images had nothing to do with the lyrics. I did “Unchained Melody” and the whole time the video that accompanied the Righteous Brothers masterpiece was filled with skiers wiping out. I thought about it for awhile and still haven’t been able to make the connection. Immediately after, I guess as a masochistic novelty act for those present, I was forced to do “Venus”. I didn’t know how the verses of this song go, and I still don’t. Then I was forced to do “Let it Be”, and I told Mario then that this was a Beatles song, which caused some confusion in the room. Halfway through this song they finally took the microphone away from me and gave it to Aurora and her squeeze to finish. Apparently there is no room for artistic interpretation in China, even for artists they don’t know of. Or perhaps I was off key, but that is unlikely.

On Saturday I went to the beach with Josue and his Dutch/Portuguese friend Pinto. Josue had just got back from a trip to Rotterdam to go to his grandmother’s funeral. On the day Pinto came to visit him he was already on his way out of Lisbon. So for one week, we had a replacement Dutch. If this place were the setting of a sitcom that I was watching, I think I would have figured that the actor playing Josue was in a contract negotiation or rehab and so the producers had to find someone to take his place. As soon as Josue got back a couple days later Pinto has to leave. So anyway, Pinto Leite (his name in Brazilian Portuguese means Dick Milk) told me his niece might come to visit us before he goes. And I told him he seemed young to be an uncle, and he replied that she is his aunt. And I paused to consider the math involved in the incestuous relationship that would result in a person being your aunt and niece at the same time. And so I asked him, “so let me get this straight…your brother had sex with your grandmother and the child they had was your aunt and niece?” He told me that this wasn’t the case, but rather she is his father’s sister’s child, and I was still confused and stuck on incest and asked, “so your father had a child with his sister?” And he said, “what’s wrong with you? My father’s sister married another guy and had a child, my niece”. So then I realized he had his terms mixed up and I told him he meant that she was his cousin and we agreed that that was what his relationship to her was. Apparently in Dutch cousin is translated with two genders and is the same word as niece for a girl, and nephew for a guy. I guessed he liked the way I thought anyway and we got along well after that, so I told him the meaning of the word chrononecroincestiofilia.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Lowest Common Dominator

Assunto: A little bit about my classmates so you may have an idea of what my everyday life is like since I spend most of my day here with these people. My professor is named Pedro and he reminds me a lot of Al Pacino. He is the most intense professor I have ever had, and he sometimes gets exhausted and a bit hoarse by the end of each day. When I arrive in the morning he looks like Pacino at the beginning of “A Dog Day Afternoon” and by the end of class he looks a bit like Pacino near the end of the same movie. He is an ex-professional soccer player and now creates dictionaries and also just finished an everyman’s guide to the new orthographical rules for international Portuguese.

The two people who sit next to me are Chanti (pictured at top (right of Maria the Basque)) and Tarantino. They are both from Goa. The former is a Portuguese/English professor in Goa who is wishing to formalize her grammar a bit more. She is constantly yelling things to me in archaic English across Tarantino, translating words I already understood in Portuguese into an old English which means very little to me. It’s like having a 17th century British dictionary with Turrets at arms reach every day. For instance, today, when I was half-asleep, because it’s Friday, I wasn’t even listening to the professor who was talking about older rural houses outside Lisbon and she just yells “fag” at me. I, of course, am used to these outbursts by now, but was still a bit taken aback by this particular word as it has a different connotation in modern English than it does in her English. I said, in English, “WHAT?!!” And then she described to me the stockpiles of logs and sticks that were used as fodder for building fires insides one’s country home. I said, “uh yeah…we just call that a woodpile now.” Then I started to daze again and she yelled at me “hut”. And I look at her with complete disinterest, as I swear this happens twenty times a day and I’m a bit fed up with it all. Then the professor, as a language professor should do, describes to me the word we are looking for in Portuguese and I said, “fireplace.” And then Chanti says, “but isn’t hut also used?”, and I reply, “no, no one has ever, ever, ever used hut to describe a fireplace.” So she spells it out and the word she was trying to say was hearth, which the professor confused for heart…another 20 minute digression and we were back to me saying “no one uses hearth anymore, like I said 20 minutes ago, it’s a fireplace.” I wish I would have written down all these Ye Olde Englysh words she would be spitting out because it would make for a good proposal to the Anglophone countries or the U.N. to send Goa some updated dictionaries. I remember some words: savories, gripe ointment, dutch oven (which made me laugh), starboard, and fortnight. There are many, many more.

Tarantino (who is in no way related to Quentin Tarantino) bathes every day in Brut 33 or Old Spice, I can’t tell which it is, but I feel by the end of the day that I have been huffing rubber cement for hours. My head actually gets a bit spinny and I see some stars. Otherwise, he is a nice enough guy and is very charming when he is wearing his black cowboy hat which I still haven’t been able to fully comprehend. He wears it with the rope tied tightly under the chin.

Harry is a trip. The picture on the right is Harry with our Professor. He wears a different color of frames for his glasses everyday and he is constantly cheating in the most obvious ways. I don’t think the Chinese have really perfected this art yet, gun powder yes, extracting brine yes, making noodles yes, etc., but not cheating. He is the basis of my Chinaman speaking Portuguese impersonation and I feel almost like a method actor studying him most days in class. He’ll just sigh deeply and then “hhoooooooo….muuuiiiitttto trabaaaalhhooo.” When I told the professor that I would be presenting on Portuguese Rock & Roll, he asked the professor, “hhooooooooo…o que é lock en lor?” which means “what is lock en lor”. I realized I really had my work cut out for me when he said that especially because, this day in age, that is a very hard question to answer.
The video below is from today, when we got in a heated debate (in Portuguese of course) about whether it is possible to make popcorn with cell phones. I think the video proves this is just another international urban legend.