Category Archives: Travel

Chasing Lenin in Krakow

While in exile Lenin lived in Krakow a little while, and it is always our tradition to try and find the haunts of radicals and revolutionaries while visiting a city (like the Parisian cafe where he played chess with Trotsky and etc). For some context, I give you Israel Joshua Singer’s description of Lenin from The Brothers Ashkenazi (which you can read about as it relates the anti-Jewish sentiments to Marxist theory here):

…the squat man with the naked skull and Tatar features didn’t wax sentimental upon the occasion….He gazed ironically at the forest of red flags, his bald pate reflecting the gleam of the military trumpets blaring the “Marseillaise” in his honor, and narrowed his slanted eyes at the hordes of welcomers…Their speeches left him unmoved. A narrow smile played at the corners of his sly slit eyes as he patiently listened to their cultured voices and waited to douse their rhetoric with cold, sobering logic.

That cold, calculating logic wins the day, but Singer is unconvinced that is a good thing. Still, I could not get this description out of my head while staring at pictures of the statue of Lenin erected in the Stalinist workers’ housing development of Nova Huta — and still standing after attempts to blow it up, blow off its head, make of it a monument covered in cat piss, and etc.

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Only to be taken down in 1989 and sold to a Swedish theme park. This reminded me of similar remnants of Lenin’s legacy in Prague, particularly the absurd Museum of Communism.

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The fact that it was the workers of Nova Huta themselves, facing down immense state violence, who helped bring down the ‘communist’ regime shows just how far the USSR had moved from early ideals of all-power-to-the-soviets and its dream of a workers state. Lenin can’t, of course, be blamed entirely for that, but I personally feel he sowed a few of those seeds.

On a lighter note…this is  an alternative view of Lenin, and his time in Krakow from a site more geared to the promotion of tourism:

Lenin arrived in Kraków on June 22, 1912 on the overnight train from Vienna, wife and mother-in-law in tow. Working as a freelance journalist for Russian papers like Pravda he took rented lodgings first on Krolowej Jadwigi, behind the Salwator tram terminus, and then at ul. Lubomirskiego 47. His favoured hangout was apparently Noworolski Café (Rynek Główny 1), a spot he used to entertain both wife and lover. One of Lenin’s great passions was ice skating, and he’d often be seen spinning deft moves on an ice rink which once stood close to the Botanical Gardens. In warmer months he’d pass time cycling in Wolski Forest as well as taking romantic walks through the Błonia Meadow.

Summers were spent in Poronin, just outside Zakopane, where he would play chess and hang out with Polish heavyweight writers like Witkiewicz and Żeromski. His reputation as a good-for-nothing finally caught up with him however, and on August 8th, 1914 he was arrested as an enemy of the state and imprisoned in Nowy Targ. Released days later he returned to Kraków to pack his bags and fled to Switzerland.

I laughed out loud at reading ‘His reputation as a good-for-nothing’ I confess. Another site mentions that his wife believed Krakow had mellowed him, and he was a fan of its zurek soup (rye soup) and hard liquor. Combine that with ice skating, and I can understand mellow. It also notes that Krakow was only six miles from the Russian border at the time, and a zone for smuggling of currency, goods and people. It also notes the move to ul. Lubomirskiego was made so Lenin could be closer to the post office.

Our trip to the Naworolski Cafe — its interior designed by Joseph Mehoffer, one of the artists of the Young Poland movement whose house was also well worth our visit.

Noworolski

Noworolski

Noworolski

The service was terribly slow, so we had lots of time to think about Lenin as ladies’ man and early-morning-paper-reader, hope that the coffee was better back in those days, and enjoy the view across Krakow’s main square:

Noworolski
Then there’s the Propaganda Cafe in Kazimierz, which was never a haunt of Lenin’s, but did contain a lot of awesome old stuff from communist days, including this picture. Also, the Gin and Tonics were exactly what we needed on a day whose heat almost killed Mark…

IMG_4500

We were in the area of his first place of residence – Krolowej Jadwigi, behind the Salwator tram terminus. This is the tram station closest to the Kościuszko Mound which we visited. Here we walked through Las Wolski — a welcome escape for those who live in the city.

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Another day we set off for ul. Lubomirskiego 47 on the way to the Botanic Garden, an area unlike any we had visited yet

Krakow

Krakow

Krakow

We found ul. Lubomirskiego to be a rather interesting street:

Krakow

We passed apartments like this, surely it would be like this we thought:

Krakow

But no, the one shiny newly-painted building on the block was Lenin’s — a pale beigey yellow. I don’t know why my heart demanded Lenin’s old digs to be of faded splendour, but so it was.

Krakow

Across the street, Krakow marching into modernity.

Krakow

I think part of why I enjoy hunting down these places is how it helps you step outside the role of visitor a little, get a feel for more of the city.

That was all…but I think this will be my last Krakow post — too much to do: too many blogs that are hopefully working through material for my article on social movement, too many applications to write, too much work on Whispering Truth stories, too many more days of failing to finish my book rewrites and get this review done for City and these other articles wrapped up and submitted. I am looking forward to all of that work so little that I have managed to exercise every day despite the heat and have submitted three short stories to magazines and my book to another agent.

I hate that shit, but not as much as working on articles apparently.

But there is always Krakow.

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Katowice: City of the Unseen

I loved Katowice. You will not be surprised after I confess my love of street art, of contrast, of things that are not pinned down in their disinfected cleanliness and their frozen historicities and false fronts but that are in various stages of subsiding or becoming. I find these places full of possibility. Palimpsests of all that has been, visible in crumblings and peeling paint, all that could be in the fanciful newness and bright colour, growth made possible through the crumbling itself. Above all an opportunity for imagination.

Katowice

The strange feeling that something, something had happened here behind this door.

Katowice

The how-on-earth of a caravan behind another door of faded magnificence:

Katowice

The courtyards that lie behind each arch — spaces full of corners, the unseen. Spaces allowed to retain a fullness of mystery and hints of green spaces.

Katowice

It is mystery, perhaps, that I loved most. Not knowing what lies around those corners. Modern constructions leave no spaces unseen like this, never frame space so beautifully, never encourage. exploration in this way, and definitely do not age with such fascination.

Katowice

Unless, of course, modern constructions are built in contrast to the older forms. Then they startle, provide difference. I confess I quite love these towers, their geometries, their thoughtfulness in granting all tenants views and light. I only wish they were a little closer, instead of isolating residents away from the movement and life of the city.

Katowice

Here too, just as in its deeply contrasted satellites Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec, the central mines hovers above and between buildings, filling the view with the memory of the coal that helped bring it to life.

Katowice

Katowice

There is also the great wide center, full of people, buildings representing a different kind of glass-and-steel modernity contrasting with these older streets, and a working public transportation system. I actually like this center as it sits in contrast to other things. I imagine, however, it might be a bit arctic in winter.

Katowice

Beauty and humour abounds here, and it is vibrant with life.

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

A little more of the art & design that I loved:

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

This place illustrates many of the principles of creating fascinating human city-scapes explored by people like Cullen and Alexander, I only wish we had had a little more time to explore this city.

Katowice

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Giszowiec — Housing Polish Miners pt 2

Giszowiec is utterly, completely different from Nikiszowiec, though designed by the same architects and both built in Katowice. I am still quite bewildered that George and Emil Zillmann should build Nikiszowiec in dense quadrangled apartments and Giszowiec after the model of Howard’s garden city. In almost the exact same year — 1907 to 1908.

From the slightly institutional-feeling density of Nikiszowiec (below part of the central square), Macin drove us to the place of his upbringing, Giszowiec (below part of the central park):

Nikiszowiec

Giszowiec

It is almost impossible to photograph Giszowiec, with its curving roads and single and duplexed housing.

Giszowiec

This view from above does it better, I am just sad it is not mine…

CC BY-SA 2.5
CC BY-SA 2.5

Perhaps its lack of photogeneity is why there is not the same impetus to put it on the tourist maps. We are lucky, perhaps, that it survives at all, as more housing was needed and much was torn down to built the high-rise housing that in places looms over the small family homes. They have much charm, these homes, even when run down or under reconstruction:

Giszowiec

Flowers everywhere

Giszowiec

And above them the mine:

Giszowiec

Giszowiec

A German company ran the mine, German engineers held the priviliged positions and also the nicest corner houses sprinkled throughout Giszowiec to maintain some level of integration and control within the community.

A little off the main roads, and sometimes just along one side, you can still see neglect and age:

Giszowiec

But yay Sputnik street

Giszowiec

Cosmic street

Giszowiec

The weird home-made

Giszowiec

We sat outside the restaurant there, part of a large complex of community halls and services along the park that I signally failed to photograph — as I did the bakery and shops, the first place of care specialising in supporting kids with Down Syndrome, the schools, the chess tables and many other things that were built here (just as in Nikiszowiec, yet so very differently) to improve the lives of workers.

I still find it so extraordinary. To improve the lives of workers. I am wondering where the impetus came from to build this housing so well, so permanently, with such support. I am trying to fit these examples into my understandings of the world, and it is hard, but it’s just because I don’t know enough.

Of course, Macin remembers when the pollution was terrible here, when the streets were rougher, grayer, when kids reluctantly did their public service in the park. He tried to explain it wasn’t quite paradise, and we believed him. yet for myself it was a belief of rational mind only. It feels quite different, staring at the lush green park full of services, the neat little houses and allotments and gardens. For workers.

The miners continue to have more power here than ever they did in the US (or the UK) I think, I still haven’t quite got my head around how different it is in the two places. It is as striking as the differences between the strength and politics of dockworkers in the UK and the US. The new government has committed completely to coal, the mines are safer and cleaner than they have ever been, miner’s salaries are twice the median wage. Their influence isn’t entirely (possibly not much at all) for the good. There is a whole complex history here that I know I have only scratched the surface of — the resistance against the communist government seen in Nova Huta (a third strikingly different type of worker housing along utopian lines), rumblings that would help to bring it down. The strikes, and the violent suppressions. On the way back to our hotel, we passed by Wujec Coal mine, where in 1981 the government sent tanks in to suppress the uprising of the union Solidarity.

The crosses commemorate the nine miners killed.

Wujek Coal Mine

A powerful day, to see all of this. So much to think about, come back to. I hope to do more work around mining, and these contrasts feel important.

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Coming to America

The forces of nature were at work as I traveled. I’ve been reading so much about our relationship with nature, whether we are part of it or a devastating destructive force somehow outside of it. We flew into Chicago and I stared down. The city didn’t seem real. Didn’t seem within our powers to build, to transform the earth so. To leave such a mark.

How wondrous and terrible to be so high above it. In the sky.

This Chicago of skyscrapers — the bounding humanism of Louis Sullivan, the graft and corruption of the Monadnock, the early utopian ideals of Bertrand Goldberg, wondrous words and heartbreaks of working class communities, communities of colour written by Stuart Dybek, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry. Its early days and connections to the countryside and food production so described by Edna Ferber in one of the great American novels you have never read. Me sitting above all this, and millions of lives being lived.

I quite love it from here, but to get to O’Hare you keep flying, and flying. Miles of flat and sprawl.

The plane from Chicago to Tucson sat on the tarmac, and sat. And sat. ‘You gotta be kidding me, a storm?’ chided the six year old in the seat in front of me.

Natural forces. Lightening sheeting across the sky. We turned back to the gate. Frustrating, but gave me a few hours to see my brother and Sandy and my baby nephew, all of whom I love very much. I was one of the lucky ones, even without my luggage (medicine, face cream, special shampoo, a change of clothes, things I am shamefacedly so sad to do without). I had someone to call, and a bed for the night after stealing some hours of sleep from my poor brother.

Back in the air late the next afternoon, we came into Phoenix, 111 degrees. The plane sailed down for the landing and then abruptly banked back upwards. Fear. A cold front had come across, causing whirlwinds of dust, gusts of over 50 mph. We circled, the left engine grinding like the slight rise of panic in my stomach. I am slowly coming to hate flying for more than environmental reasons (the ones that maybe should be but aren’t strong enough to keep me from visiting my family). I am not ready to plummet to earth in a mass of metal.

‘You gotta be kidding me, a cold front?’ demanded a man somewhere behind me.

Now home in Tucson, happy to be back in heat that wraps round you like a blanket. Reeling a bit as always with the size. Everything is so huge here: cars, roads, empty lots, sprawling cities, people. We went to Target, and I thought perhaps a new phobia should be invented for fear of large stores, overwhelming choice, terrifying impossible demands on your capacity to consume. Even the shopping carts are bigger, and they have seats like little plastic cars for children. Bohemoths left blocking the massive shining white aisles while mom stares at rows of hairsprays. I don’t know why the carts bother me so much, far beyond her rudeness. The size I think, like the health food store with it’s giant canisters of super-food powder for $75.99 each.

I feel sometimes I see it all through post-peak-oil-globally-warmed-already-run-out-of-water-and-even-hotter-after-the-whimpering-apocalypse eyes. No one should possibly ask ‘why’ it has happened, but I imagine they will.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine might have been one of the most amazing things we saw, yet given the volume of visitors we were rushed through the caverns like small puffs of wind. Hard on the heels of one group and with another close behind, we raced through long tunnels, and clustered around sculptures trying to get our photographs in before the guide finished speaking and rushed us to the next place. They even rushed us through the gift shop — located in the second most spectacular cavern, in which we had 5 minutes exactly to stare in wonder and to make purchases.

From the UNESCO World Heritage Site:

The deposit of rock salt in Wieliczka and Bochnia has been mined since the 13th century. This major industrial undertaking has royal status and is the oldest of its type in Europe. The site is a serial property consisting of Wieliczka and Bochnia salt mines and Wieliczka Saltworks Castle. The Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines illustrate the historic stages of the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th to the 20th centuries: both mines have hundreds of kilometers of galleries with works of art, underground chapels and statues sculpted in the salt, making a fascinating pilgrimage into the past. The mines were administratively and technically run by Wieliczka Saltworks Castle, which dates from the medieval period and has been rebuilt several times in the course of its history.

Yet no nutshell can contain, nor rushed over-large group tour quite ruin, the miles of corridors:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The strange doors and carvings (reminding me of how I always imagined Moria):

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The strange figures, some of nationalist bent,

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

others depictions of miners, this of the brave mad men who set alight the clouds of methane that would form in pockets here:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

My favourite jaunty labourer:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Copernicus:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

many religious scenes:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Everywhere testaments to the faith of the miners — and the dangerous nature of their work

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

And the strange formations of the salt itself, in little icicles, what they called here spaghetti:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Seamed and shiny smooth along the walls, marked with the tools of those who worked here:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Puffed and popcorned in places

Wieliczka Salt Mine

And then the grandeur of the large chamber

Wieliczka Salt Mine

it’s salt chandeliers

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Also the underground ‘lake’

Wieliczka Salt Mine

and the final chamber (shorn of stalls and cash registers and milling faintly desperate crowds:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Worth, so worth a visit, but what I wouldn’t have given to traverse it a little more slowly, with a few less people.

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Pieskowa Skała and Ogrodzieniec Castle

Ania drove and drove selflessly (if interestingly) until we found hills, then wonderful pillars of limestone and then Pieskowa Skała above a wildflowered hillside.

Pieskowa Skała

Pieskowa Skała castle, built by King Casimir III the Great, is one of the best-known examples of a defensive Polish Renaissance architecture. It was erected in the first half of the 14th century as part of the chain of fortified castles called Orle Gniazda (Eagles Nests), along the highland plane of the Polish Jura extending north-west from Kraków to the city of Częstochowa.

The castle was rebuilt in 1542–1544 by Niccolò Castiglione with participation from Gabriel Słoński of Kraków. The sponsor of the castle’s reconstruction in the mannerist style was the Calvinist, Stanisław Szafraniec, voivode of Sandomierz.

Old and new fortifications blending one into the other into a unified whole.

Pieskowa Skała

A courtyard full of flowers, and below a lovely formal garden to be admired from a height.

Pieskowa Skała

A display of ‘English’ paintings in three rooms, all of them copies of Constable and Reynolds among others, or attributed to most questionably. Wonderful faces staring down at us from the inner courtyard.

Pieskowa Skała

A wonderful collection of gothic art.

Pieskowa Skała

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From there Ania drove us to Ogrodzieniec Castle, a very different kind of place though also part of this same group of fortifications along the Jura. We walked up a long road lined by stalls selling the most wonderful and terrible of Polish kitsch — at its best funny painted wooden cats and owls which I rather coveted, at its worst plastic Uzis and AK-47s. There was a house of horrors to the right, a fun fair to the left, the screaming of children, rides, balloons. The castle was crawling with people, and more selling of kitsch in the main courtyard but at times its atmosphere and history were recoverable. It is most beautiful:

Ogrodzieniec CastleEstablished in the early 12th century, during the reign of Bolesław III Wrymouth (Polish: Bolesław Krzywousty), the first stronghold was razed by the Tatars in 1241. In the mid-14th century a new gothic castle was built here to accommodate the Sulimczycy family.

One of its owners created a beautiful marble room for his lady, which was destroyed — among several waves of destruction — by Swedish troops during The Deluge. Fitting, then, perhaps, that I am slowly getting through the first half of the second book in Henryk Sinkiewicz’s trilogy. A beautiful view of what they were fighting for apart from wealth and fame and power…

Ogrodzieniec Castle

The other view is looking down on the gauntlet of consumption, and the miniature park created so you don’t actually have to visit real castles but can see them all in one place.

Miniatures seen from Ogrodzieniec Castle

Pieskowa Skała is castle as national history and heritage, Ogrodzieniec is castle as camp and consumption. As theme park.

Hopeless to feel any of the other famous history of the place among a horde of holiday makers:

According to some investigators of paranormal phenomena, the Ogrodzieniec Castle is a place haunted by mighty dark powers. There have been locally famous reports of the “Black Dog of Ogrodzieniec” being seen prowling the ruins in the night-time. Witnesses have claimed that the spectre is a black dog much larger than an ordinary dog, and is supposed to have burning eyes and pull away a heavy chain. The dog is believed to be the soul of the Castellan of Cracow, Stanisław Warszycki. Interestingly, his soul also haunts the ruins of the Dańków Castle, where it appears as a headless horseman.

They did try, however. Perhaps.

Ogrodzieniec Castle

Ogrodzieniec Castle

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It has been a funny time, days spent listening and coming to grips with this entirely-new-to-me new materialism, speculative realism, weird realism and object-oriented ontology — theories that I think are sometimes useful, sometimes so not useful. I am so grateful, though, that I was able to come to this conference, and even more so for a lovely weekend  spent with new friends and getting to know such a beautiful place.

And yet the news. God the news. The shootings of the police in Dallas, two more black men killed by cops, latinos killed by cops, violence soaring so this from facebook on Friday:

news relentlessly unfolds and violence and injustice and death and lives twisted by this world we’ve created, and hearts breaking and so my love goes out to everyone but especially to all those whose skin is darker than mine, I am thinking and worrying about you so much, every day, I hope you stay safe and stay whole. Take care of one another, know where we stand and who we stand with and fight to change things for the better in ways big and small wherever we are…I suppose that is all we can do?

It is hard to know even how to react anymore. Much of our conversation here has been about the turns to the right, the rising of violence. Poland has its own worries…it is good to find people who stand against this tide.

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Memories of Poland up until now

Before we go to Poland, memories of ways my life has brushed up against its people…

In 6th grade everyone brought dishes from our cultural background to share. I had never seen a beet. A taste of Adam’s borscht and I had to run to throw up in the girl’s bathroom.

‘Pollack’ jokes, before blonde jokes were a thing (and usurped much of their content). We had no cultural context for them.

Ricki went to our church, she lived for a long time down the trailer park but for a little while with us. After I had left home. She would sit, a tiny lady with big smokey glasses in the big maroon chair, wearing her powder-blue flowered dressing gown. She would smoke and do paint-by-numbers and talk about everyday things. I loved her laugh. She owned a polka bar in Chicago she told me once, in the basement of a tenement and all was well until the mob approached her with a sharing-of-space and acting-as-a-front deal she couldn’t refuse. She didn’t, she sold up when she could. Moved away, far away, right away to Tucson Arizona. I never knew if I believed her, sometimes I wonder if I remember it right at all. But I always imagine with pleasure a smokey neon-lit polka bar and Ricki presiding over it all in polyester. Better than a trailer and a son-in-law who scared me with his unfocused eyes and unfocused words and whip thin body and scars and the oxygen tank and the anger he trailed though his 30s.

Mrs Ross, Auschwitz’s numbers tattooed across her arm. Manny used to do handy work for her, and often we just went for chat and latkes and fish cooked in ways I had never encountered before. Sweet and salty and tomatoed. Almost blind, her house lay shrouded in low light to protect the fragility of her eyes in all their enormity. Peering around I would drink in a European house of fringe and velvet and wallpaper. A house like none I had been in before. She fit the house, with high necked ruffled blouses and a touch of lipstick always, her hair coiffed though everyday it seemed wispier. A contrast to heavy jewelry. Clip on earrings. She would grasp my arm with her tiny hands and cast up her eyes to the dim ceiling and say Poland! Oh, how beautiful it was! The drives and the summers and the trees and the parties … I remember so little. Too little. No town name, no markers for me to find, to share these loved memories with her. Only Auschwitz, the murder of everyone she knew, but she never talked about that. Only about her work translating for others after the liberation, into Russian and a more broken English. I remember my surprise at her scorn for English arrogance and preference for the Russians, and I remember her trouble adjusting to America. Oh, Poland she would say. I loved her, loved her enthusiasms, loved her expansive gestures and exaggerated sayings and sighs. Oh Poland, I can hear her saying. The most beautiful place on earth. The most beautiful place to be young.

She never went back.

An old coworker in Glasgow, beautiful, blonde and so smiling, so kind. Until we started talking about Arabs. Her ex-boyfriend with such white teeth, such a pretty face, such frightening eyes and all he wanted to be was a police officer. My discomfort drinking his round of pints. He hated more than Arabs.

A more recent coworker, also lovely and smiling. She always had a warm hello, a meaningful how are you. She blamed more recent immigrants than herself for problems with the NHS and felt they should be denied health care, felt happiness when Cameron was elected, leaned to the right in all matters. So it surprised me to look over her daughter’s first communion pictures after months of updates on the trip back to Poland, the dress, the party — only then staring in surprise did I discover her daughter’s father was West Indian. She knew I would be surprised too, and that I would have to unpick some of my own assumptions.

Stanislaw Lem, so rarely found in used bookshops by my father, and carried home as treasure. My universe expanded with him. Bruno Schulz, my own treasure, inspiration for one of my novel’s chapters that I love the most. Stuart Dybek newly discovered, Chicago’s working class Catholic mix of Polish and Mexican and crystalline prose. Others that I am now discovering.

I am looking forward to visiting this place, and we are off today.

Stockholm, lovely Stockholm

Stockholm has brought us tiny baby goats, Joe Bataan, Nietzsche’s death mask and more Munch paintings than I have ever seen before, an exhibit on Satyajit Ray and Tagore’s artwork, discovering how good the Swedish modernists were, the best boar sculpture, meatballs and reindeer stew and skinksmorgas, medieval alleys, turf houses and farms, the red room where intellectuals and artists once congregated that inspired August Strindberg’s novel by the same name, knowing that the king encouraged every Swedish household to grow their own tobacco, boats, wood-paneled working mens’ bars…amazing trip. I might write more later, but everything in life is going so fast and I am off to a new farm this morning.

Stockholm

From ferries to amazing buildings to food at Kvarnen and Pelikan, restaurants/bars in Södermalm (which is the area I by far loved the most). The red room in Berns. Boats and stick figures, also inlcuding a few pictures of Thielska Galleriet, where we saw: ‘Olof Sager-Nelson and his contemporaries. “Anywhere out of the world” along with an amazing collection of Edvard Munch and Nietzche’s death mask, a bit of Blasieholm as described by Fredrika Bremer…I love this city.

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Gamla Stan

The petrified medieval centre of Stockholm, with wonderful narrow alleys that we went slinking through so as to avoid completely all tourist thoroughfares. It is hell. of. touristy. But quite beautiful when empty, so I was sorry to spoil it for others with my own tourist self.

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Skansen

Stockholm’s open air museum, this I did want to write more about because I loved the ancient buildings. I am fascinated by the process of ripping them from the ground they grew out of to bring them here. We shall see when I write!

There were also baby goats.

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Snus- och tändsticksmuseum

Part of Skansen really, but incredibly amazing place…I will write more about this too, and it’ going into the novel too, but for now:

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Millesgården

Studio and collection of Carl Milles, and most of it was stunning though that crazy array of statues in front of the sea was a bit overwhelming… but I liked visiting a further island by ferry, seeing a bit more of the everyday city. Satyajit Ray and Tagore — amazing.

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We saw the photography museum as well, missed lots of things but hopefully we’ll be back. When we’re both much wealthier because it was by far the most expensive place we have ever been.

A Very Swedish PhD Defense (plus gothic after-party)

The real reason we are here in Sweden is for Mark to examine a PhD. That process is so different here, not least in the amount of camaraderie and collegial support because things are done as cohorts and everyone finishes about the same time. I was just a little jealous.

We all came together in a large round lecture theatre, it is a public defense here — I was not at all jealous about that. In front of the door there is a table with a stack of theses upon it, free to take away. They print them in the form of a nice little book, a lovely cover, something you’d be proud to have on your shelf. I was hell of jealous about that. In the audience sit: the supervisor(s), the three examiners with an additional internal examiner in wait in case of emergency, partners of examiners, the parents and siblings, a host of friends. There were maybe 30 of us? The candidate can open with a few words, and she did. Then the interrogator comes in — today’s was flown in from Michigan. He gives a summation of the thesis in about 20 minutes. He asks formally if she finds it an acceptable summation, to which she can say yes, or can challenge or add commentary. Then begins the interrogation, lasting over an hour. It was run more like a discussion, but many a tough question lurked near the end.

Coffee break.

We convene again, each of the examiners (two from the UK, an internal examiner who was of course based at Linkoping) asks questions for about ten minutes. They each have different specialisms, but each related to the candidate’s subject. Philosophy, Derrida, Monsters. Then it is over, there is applause. Examiners and interrogator retire to discuss their verdict. Everyone else retires for snacks. Champagne is ready.

Finally the examiners too are ready with the verdict. Apparent from chatter in the corridors is that if someone gets to this stage they are expected to pass. But of course, you can still fail.

The examiners return. There is a tense moment. Then passing, speeches, happiness, champagne.

I thought that actually, it is rather nice for everyone to sit and listen to the content of their friend’s life and work over the past years. To hear her talk about it. To then be able to make jokes about the present absence.

Everyone retires. A few of us convene again for dinner, theatrics and dancing. I think that is what impressed me the most, because it was so damn lovely.

First I love vaults and restaurants to be found downstairs — I am quite gothic in that respect, and gothic is what the party was. Masquerade masks met us on the tables, candles, dark corners, bricks and stone.

Linköping

Delicious food, wine, speeches and the best advice from advisor to student having problems I have ever heard — did you drink wine with your friends and talk about it? The best story about a tiny cat. Presents that were impossibly thoughtful, several involving a celebration of the new Doctor through Doctor Who. Some goth makeovers of friends and supervisor.

Then an homage to the candidate from her cohort, a little theatre piece based on the awesome Night Vale podcasts. Not only was it clever and creative, it also showed whoever wrote it was all too familiar with the theoretical arguments as well as the content. It was quite wonderful and I was entirely and wholly jealous, as was everyone at my table who had varying stories of our own PhD examinations that were all of varying levels of anti-climacticism.

Then we danced to songs I had never heard before. Someone mentioned Depeche Mode. There were some other things I had heard before, but I have forgotten what they were.

Wonderful night.

Linköping

We wandered back to our hotel — Fawlty Towers. An entirely hilarious Swedish interpretation of this British classic with surprisingly fine friendly service.

Linköping

In Swedish, Pangi Bygget. Awesome.

Linköping

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Baja adventures part 2

A foggy morning in the ex-ejido of Chepultepec. We wandered down to the little restaurant for an excellent breakfast, un omelete de rajas con crema, chilaquiles, frijoles, happiness even though I could only finish half. We wandered out of the restaurant again, we heard the sound of tires peeling out, and through the arched entrance we watched police cars drive past going west, they must have turned where the road forks and then back they came going east…two cars, a truck, another car, another truck, they raced back up the road, lights flashing, sirens blaring. I walked through the arch to look down the road but they were already disappearing. And a minute later behind them came put-putting a tiny little car like a golf cart with a family happily oblivious inside. It was like the keystone cops.

We are back in el ex-ejido Chapultepec, but just for one more night, not two…And there are gunshots even as I write, first one, thirty seconds later another. I hope it is nothing. We got a reservation in Ensenada proper tomorrow but tonight there was nowhere available. Third gunshot, I hate guns. Fourth gunshot. A lot of cars pulling away. Fifth gunshot, they’re just fucking around, did I say I hate guns? I hate them.

Anyway, today was a great day…we walked down to the main road and waited for a bus…sixth gunshot. That one sounded closer. This morning we were waiting for the bus and there were three guys hanging out down by the fence alongside a little stand selling second hand goods. All of a sudden sirens blare, lights flash, and a police car and a police truck together pull over a van right beside us…I watch them for a minute, we’re a bit nervous you understand, then turn my head and the three guys have disappeared into thin air, vanished into the earth. The police get out with their huge automatic weapons, they confer. Seventh gunshot. We wonder if the bus will stop for us with them there, but it does, we get onto first one and then a micro to la Bufadora…eighth gunshot, I’m glad they’re just fucking around but it would be nice if they stopped now. So, la Bufadora, a natural phenomenon that is apparently very rare, there were a steady stream of tour buses headed there at any rate…small ones. We found out later that they were ferrying people from the cruise ships. Ninth gunshot, this is absurd.

And they’re interrupting my story, cabrones. So, we got on the micro with a man carrying a load of perhaps one hundred caramel apples fixed onto both ends of a pole, another with a khaki vest I rather fancied that had ‘professional photographer’ embroidered on the back in red…we wound along the coast and it was beautiful; if I come back here for a weekend I think it would be nice to try La Jolla beach, we passed it on the way, it was long and white, it was not fenced off, and apparently you can find beautiful shells there, I like shells. La Bufadora was…now there’s a loud fight taking place outside, you have to love Saturday night, I’m glad we’re tired and sunburned and in our rooms…so, La Bufadora was very cool, not astounding. Or perhaps it would have been amazing had there not been crowds of people lining the wall overlooking it…luckily they were all lazy and none of them felt like climbing to the top with us so we could look down for a while in peace. Bev says that the legend tells of a mother and baby whale traveling from the South to the North, and the baby whale gets trapped and so la bufadora is the poor trapped whale trying to escape and expelling the water from it’s blowhole. And that’s what it looks like, a huge spume of water that leaps up to oohs and ahhs from the crowd at regular intervals. I think if you were to stumble upon it alone, it would be spectacular. Crawling with people it is not quite so spectacular, though I rather enjoyed the gauntlet of tourist stalls on the way there: T-shirts of Zapata getting high, Bart Simpson as Che and an Aztec warrior, pharmacies selling antibiotics, valium and Viagra, knockoff bags by Chanel, the pleasant smell of churros in the air, chanclas of every description…

We took the micro back to the main road and then the bus to Ensenada to plan our escape. We passed fields of asparagus. We passed lines of farm workers tired and dusty carrying pails and waiting to get onto large yellow school buses. We passed piles of coconuts and stands full of preserved olives and chiles. We passed a Japanese restaurant with a large red sun above it, caricatured with slanty eyes and glasses and buck teeth. We passed a poverty that even coming from South Central is shocking. I had forgotten, funny how easy it is to forget when you don’t have to look at it every day. Or survive it every day. And we wandered Ensenada which is a great deal richer, but full of indigenous women and children hustling the streets selling bracelets and chiclets, they way they do in Nogales, in Tijuana, in Juarez, in Guadalajara. Everywhere in Mexico, such inequalities hurt my heart. And I wonder why they didn’t rise up and join the Zapatistas, why they came here. I wonder how such a precarious life of dismal suffering could be better then making a stand and fighting. I wonder if the decision was a conscious one or not. I wonder what I would have decided had I been in their place. I gave thanks for where I am; who I was born confusing as my worlds are sometimes. I am glad I am fighting, and I am glad to be alive, and I am glad to be here. And I am also glad I have no internet connection, almost two full days without being able to work and that has been a rather beautiful thing, though it is back to civilization tomorrow.

And er…those aren’t gunshots, they’re fireworks. They have to be.