Interlude

Every time I get on a plane I think how amazing it is that we can fly through the air. And I think about life, and that I am happy to have lived so well. And that I really want to live a bit longer, because there is still so much I want to do.

Today coming back into LA, the hills were an emerald green, greener than I have ever seen them. And I was able to imagine for a second that I was coming home to somewhere else, where the hills are always this green, and happiness fluttered in my stomach. For a second.

But the hills gave way to uniform lines of tracted, gridded, swimming-pooled housing, spreading for LA’s unfathomable miles, and then the suburbs melted into the ghettoes. And the man sitting next to me continued to adjust … let’s just say to adjust himself. He had been doing so since he first sat down an hour and a half before. And I realized that I am good at unseeing things but not that good, so I curled up into myself, and into the window. And it upset me, as did the hour wait for the flyaway, and somehow I lost my ‘stay away’ face, that comes and goes since I left South C for Scotland, and got seriously hit on and I just wasn’t in the mood.

Hopefully soon the hills beneath the plane will be the ones I want. Right now I just want to run away, but it would be nice instead to be running to. Or with. Or something like that. And I dream of the LSE decision, but sadly, and on all fronts I care about, this is the time of no reply. And I have no wine.

The gaps

I discovered a small truth today. Or a big Truth. You could write reams about the meaning of truth and that’s not at all what I want to do. To me, there are simply those moments when you realize something and it’s like a glorious golden tone, a sense of rightness where everything moves slightly, settles into comfortable place.

It has been inspired vaguely by the last two books I’ve read. China Mieville’s The City & The City…soon available to those less lucky than I, this is a book I truly love. And Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends, which I really liked, and is a good read. The City is all about interstices, visibility and invisibility, cities lying both beside and inside of each other. And it gave me chills because these are things I mull over all the time in many different ways. And yet this book created a world that I have never yet come even close to imagining and that is an incredible gift. This is my first reading of course, it is the kind of book that will yield up additional meanings as I reread it I know. It inspired a sideline of my own thought, and Chabon cemented it though the cementing was a tiny sideline of his work as well.

There are no margins. When I get these golden moments and write them down, they always appear absurdly simple, hardly worthy of mention. And they are so often things I have been thinking for a long time, and never found words for, so they remained fuzzy and ill-defined. Margins, the marginalized … these are words used all the time, especially in social theory, the world of urban planning. I have used them myself. And I am sure my little truth is not new, so I apologize to others ignored in the flush of my discovery… a discovery for myself, not for the world. And I’m still exploring it, savouring it like a bar of dark chocolate, so forgive that to.

Margins only exist from the perspective of one seated firmly and comfortably in the center of their own world. These people look out and see from great distance others behaving in ways they don’t understand, and usually do not condone. In the worst case scenario they see their margins as something to be fixed or eradicated. And they always look at it with varying shades of wonder, jealousy, disdain, voyeuristic interest, judgment. And the rest of us buy into it almost without thinking. I’ve been imagining that instead of a dominant world, the earth is peopled with many such worlds, like spheres, they pile up and jostle one another, their thin membranes can overlap others sometimes, they exist in permutations of inside and outside and crosshatched shades (crosshatch comes from China, it has made me extraordinarily happy).

Some people, many people, are lucky enough to navigate worlds from early ages, but these worlds are afforded different values. Marginalization is entirely in the mind, and entirely political. For most the margins mean the underworld, the underbelly, the world of the poor, the criminal. In the States it is the spaces inhabited by people of color, the poor, immigrants, strange languages, smells, foods. The reality is that these are their own worlds of equal value if not economic or political strength. The reality I think, is that to those inside of them, their codes and beliefs and comfort levels are just as much defined for them by their surroundings as for anyone else, and their own margins just as real within them. South Central, like South Tucson, is actually a vibrant and beautiful place of incredible culture and history, though with codes and violence shaped by years of poverty, racism and eploitation. The worlds of my UCLA professors who theorized on improving the inner city, and the women I worked with who spent hours on a bus to go and clean their houses…to move back and forth between them was like a jolt, an existential disconnection. Neither understood the other, both saw completely different sides. To stand outside both but with a foot in each yielded entirely new facets again.

There are even worlds that people choose to belong to, that become as bounded as anything else. To me much of the Bay Area, for example, has always been too uniform for comfort in its own comfortable counterculture-ness, and unspoken standards of politics, behaviour, shopping, and intellectualized relationships. They seem as much wrapped inside their own place as the girls I used to know who would never have dreamed of moving more than a few miles from their mothers, being unmarried beyond 25, living a life untethered to church, hometown, family.

None of this thinking about margins is new really, the whole point of nationalistic and identity movements, the best of postmodernism, have all had the aim of rejecting the term marginal, establishing an identity and a value that is separate and different from that which dominates, yet equal to it. Ha! Never thought I’d ever use separate but equal in a positive light. In a sense it is, but in many ways it is not. The feeling of belonging, however much I long for an idealized version of it on days when I am lonely and sad, always implies the existence of those who do not belong. At its best it coexists happily and does not judge, but even then it seems to carry within it the seeds of judgment, of believing everyone else incapable of knowing, understanding, partaking. And intellectuals always seem to push it, hone it, create walls that cannot be bridged. Regular folks I know who never stay up nights thinking about these things seem much more able to cross boundaries, build friendships, find humor in misunderstandings and cultural miscommunication. It’s what I loved most about Tucson’s southwest side, and gives me faith.

There are no margins, but there are people between worlds. One of my favourite books is called La Maravilla by Alfredo Vea Jr., I read it many years ago and have reread it many times. It is what first started me thinking about these things. It is the story of a boy living in Buckeye, a tiny world of squatters and outcasts outside of Phoenix. He is being raised by his Grandparents, an old Yaqui indian and a curandera from Spain, in uneasy and strained relationship with her Catholic beliefs. The grandfather takes his grandson into the mountains with some of his friends for a peyote ceremony, and he explains to him that all of the best people, the ones most worth knowing, are found within the gaps. They belong nowhere and that gives them immense freedom to create, to love, to understand, to be. And they are of every race, nation, culture, belief … anyone is capable of stepping into the gaps.

And I have always found it to be true, much as I love so many I know who are comfortable within the confines of their own worlds. It is a lonely place many times, true. But I think it allows the space to grow into the full measure of your own humanity, to explore worlds on their own terms, to dream of a world that doesn’t yet exist. Many are born into it, but spend their lives trying to belong to one place or another, to define themselves by geography or race or class or sexuality or intellect. And that is complicated by the fact that the dominant culture has for centuries defined people as it wishes, and used that as a whip to tear down, enslave, destroy. The dominant world in this country of a white middle America is very much a myth I think, but I don’t forget for an instant that the power of media, government and corporations are propping it up with brutal force and great power.

But there is such strength in stepping into the gap, embracing it, exploring it as something not simply thrust upon you. So I reject margins and believe in these gaps, crosshatchings, borderlands, wild spaces. And exult in them.

Flowers instead of leprechauns

I renewed one of my old traditions today, when I was little I would go searching for leprechauns in the desert on March 17th. I figured if there were any in the new country, they’d be out and about on St. Patrick’s day. I still believe in the little people, but of course, I have yet to find one in Arizona.

It was beautiful. I hiked through the heady smell of desert saje and another plant I know not, amidst the calling of birds and the mad fleeing of lizards.

Tiny baby lizards, most of them smaller than my pinky finger. Hundreds of them scuttled across the sand, waving their little tails wildly. The tail serves as a decoy, it is a striking white with black stripes underneath, and they whip it above them to invite attack. Once in a botched lizard capture, I ended up with a tail between my fingers. The amazing ability of lizards to regenerate their tail, however, is one of the most incredible abilities I know of, and lizards are some of my very favourite things. Regeneration and the ability to relax completely when flipped over and their bellies are stroked? I wouldn’t mind that myself.

I went West today, and it was such a difference. Just one more reason to stay away from the East side I suppose. All the flowers I remember, and more. Not many poppies of course, but in the wash where the water table is close to the surface, there were golden clumps of them.

and evidence that there had been more, I’m not sure if I missed the height of the season, but I did miss some blooms. The penstemons were in full display though, and glorious, from afar they look like a pink haze blowing back and forth

The sage filled the air. The plant itself secretes a kind of gum that was collected and used as incense in the old missions, and smells…er…divine. Looks it too

And the phacelia filled the grasses along the wash and beside the trails the way I remember

A couple of times I followed deer trails up into the hills and then back down to the wash, I missed the deer but judging from the trails, only just. And they were incredibly heavily traveled, the volume made me think that javelina must be using them as well, but I found no other evidence…nor could I smell them. I can’t say I was sorry about that. The hillsides are covered with the gold of grass, and fiddleneck and phacelia and wild onion

I also walked amidst the mad fluttering of butterflies

And found a couple of larkspur plants, they have always been the rarest, and one of my favourites

And there were globe mallows, some tiny lupins, jewel flowers, rattlesnake weed, and many others that I did not know.

I love springtime. It is already hot of course, I stopped at the Circle K on the way home and got a thirstbuster…that took me back, way back! I forgot how nice soda tastes after a long hike. And then my dad’s birthday dinner at La Indita followed by my mum’s chocolate cake…mm. I think it is very cool that my dad, Patrick Colum Gibbons, was born today. Of very immeditae Irish descent. And he was named after my grandad, not the day.

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Sonoran Desert in the Springtime

This year there are no carpets of golden poppies or sunflowers, there are no giant swaths of color splashed across the Tucson desert, and part of me is disappointed of course. I love glorious abandon.

This is one of the years that requires a closer eye, a delight in the subtle, the ground-hugging, the tiny. I love that too. The desert is still full of flowers, they riot across the stones in perfect blooms the size of a fingernail.

Eriastrim Diffusum or Miniature Woolystar

Monoptilon bellioides, also known as Mojave Desert Star. I think. There’s something about seeing what is usually unseen. there were a couple of phacelias, though I remember years when they have filled the grasses alongside the washes in deep gorgeous blues unfurling.

The flowers have definitely seen better years, and the same goes for the prickly pear. While you’re looking for what is always missed, seeking out the small beauties and the things that are hidden, you also find these guys

The only thing that seemed to be blooming as normal were the mallows.

And when you look up the desert is still wide open, beautiful

You can’t even tell that tiny flowers blanket the hills, and that lizards crouch frozen in the mottled shade of bushes.

Dad and I found this off the beaten trail, beneath a mesquite tree where a small arroyo split into two

It could be a shrine, a joke, a memory. Plastic flowers in the desert almost always commemorate death, marking graves or the sites of accidents where flesh failed and souls left bodies. In the desert death is as present as life, they twine around each other, you see it and traces of it everywhere. Scattered bones, skin, remnants of bodies.

I love life even more beside death. Beauty hidden in an arid landscape and draped around cacti skeletons, or exploding after a good winter of rain in a riotous celebration of color. High arching skies and heat. The smell of creosote and dust. This I understand. I love. I leave it for the world of people and there is so much I don’t understand, though I love there too. I walk through the desert in sandals fearlessly, it is my place. It is a beautiful dangerous place, but I know where the danger lies. The human world? I walk through that in sandals too, but never fearlessly. It hurts much more.

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PM, the Tucson Book Festival, & conspiracy theories

It makes me so happy that my hometown had its first annual book festival this weekend, hurrah for the Tucson Book Festival. And to be there with a table full of books and cds and dvds I can be proud of? Even better.

The PM table was busy, very busy, and I am thoroughly exhausted, but in that satisfied job well done sort of way. Yesterday was much busier. The highlights were the elder from the Sioux Nation who broke down for my dad the racism of the courts and the struggle to reclaim their original treaty lands from the US government, stolen after gold was discovered in the Black Hills. She was awesome. There was an older guy with polished and coiffed white hair, khakis, smart blazer. Mirrorish sunglasses. He looked at the Angola 3 video, and told me he had been imprisoned in Angola (the country), by the Cubans (who ran the country at the time). I almost asked him if he had met Che then, but didn’t. I never know if those guys are being serious, I met another old guy who told me once in a bar that he had been in Laos for years, back when he worked for the government, back when he didn’t exist. Whether or not these guys were black ops, they give me the creeps. Somehow I believe them, because they could say such things to thousands of  American who would never know what they were talking about.

Dad manned the booth with me yesterday, and was incredibly helpful in many ways. He claims that his role was to distract the big talkers with big theories and allow me time to talk to other people. My feeling is that he did that to some extent, but also ensured they spent an extra 20 minutes in the booth that I could have prevented. Like today, when I learned a great deal about the connections between the Rothschilds and England’s Royal family and how they run the world. And none of the big talkers bought anything. And many of them are emailing me in the next few days.

All of the conversations were interesting though, and I did enjoy them all. Here’s an excerpt from some of the leaflets I picked up:

“I am now a FELON because I attempted to protect my mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s, from a herd of wild cattle (including bulls) on our own private FENCED property near Snowflake, AZ.

The rancher refused to remove them, so I tried to scare the 30-40 cattle back through our gate with the noise from a .22 rifle and in the process one was killed. It must have been a ricochet since I know that I did not try to hit one.

The rancher (Dee Johnson), has 60 FELONIES against him for CATTLE RUSTLING. He is a cousin to both Jake Flake and Jeff Flake, in the AZ Legislature and US Congress respectively. Is it possible that politics has something to do with this?

you can read more at www.cowcrap.org.

Cattle rustling! God Damn! Oh the good times we had I can tell you! And of course maybe they’re not from the town, but I find mention of the Flake family of Snowflake, Arizona somewhat amusing. If they weren’t connected to cattle rustlers reminiscent of Clint Eastwood films that they seem to be, they would be a Christmas special.

Today was slower, and both parents came along making it a family affair. And Gary was around, speaking on a panel on noir and politics with Kent Harrington, and that was great. He came by the booth of course, even though the printers have yet to find a paper that works for the Jook’s cover flaps so the books didn’t arrive in time, and the book signing that should have taken place didn’t. The biggest disappointment. But here we are, with new our new friend Joy from Revolutionary Grounds.


You should definitely head on down there if you’re in Tucson, and often. Not just because they are stocking many of our books, but also because they are a great space on 4th ave to hang out, talk, eat well and drink Zapatista coffe.

And amazing, I ran into three different families I haven’t seen in 10-15 years, maybe more. The Seoldos and Sharon who used to go to our old church down off of Valencia and 12th, and the Leons. Roy used to be the assistant coach for my brother Dan’s soccer team (good old Santa Cruz, ah I remember the days, I saw them every Saturday for much of my childhood)…it is lovely to run into folks from the old days.

It was a very long, but very nice weekend, full of so many great conversations that I can’t mention them all! Folks here are fantastic. Of course.

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I’ll take my laughs where I can find them

And the comics in the paper, apparently, are a good place to go for a good bitter-sweet laugh on all that is wrong with the world. I don’t know when they made the move from Kathy to stuff like this, but it makes me happy, and so I’ve started actually reading this strip instead of single-mindedly focusing on the crossword…

Sorry it is crooked! But this one made me laugh. I’m not sure if you boil the geo-politics, structural poverty and greed of war all down to their essence that this is what you would get, but it is an essential point. And the mouse is hilarious. Far too much like me I think. So I am now part of the throng that thinks Stephan Pastis is brilliant. Pearls Before Swine.

Flight

Is an extraordinary thing. And to think about what it took for a single celled amoeba to transform over an unimaginable span of years into a being perfectly adapted to beat it’s wings and soar into the air … even more extraordinary. It is so much more impressive than walking or crawling or even pronking. I am in awe of it. This ability to fly turns even the most unlikable of all birds into something of grace and power

Wings mirror imaged and beautiful. Even a gull.

The way all of the feathers and muscles and bones work together to creat lift, break, turn. I took this next picture a couple of months ago in Arizona, a small hawk in the front yard

It’s amazing the way that each have adapted differently, the one for the ocean, for landing on water, for scavenging. The other for riding hot desert thermals, for soaring on winds without beating its wings, for lightening plummets to the ground and the power to break, scoop up its prey.

And then there are ducks. They also fly of course, but are much more amusing on the ground. Or in the water.

Practically running through the water in fact. And what extraordinary feet the American Coot has! They aren’t webbed, they look like blue green algea almost, and I tried to get a good picture but I failed.

I went paddle-boating on Echo Park today and the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Though it did turn a bit grey at the end.  After boating we walked to get some food, the park was full of families, and vendors of tacos and pupusas and carne asada and ice cream and chicharrones and elotes.

We started with elotes.

Roasted corn, y con todo? Lemon, salt, mayo, parmesan, butter and chile. A lot of chile if you ask for extra

Happiness on a stick really. And I hadn’t eaten anything all day, so we got pupusas after. As we were sitting eating we witnessed another sense of flight.

The human kind that happens when the pinche cops come along.

They inched down the road, giving that short siren burst of warning. Street vendors are unwelcome here. Surviving is important to them however, and so they chance it every weekend. They are always five minutes from a clean get away. And so the scene of community transformed. In five minutes all carts were packed up, and there were no more pupusas, elotes, carne asada, tacos, or ice cream. The tianguis spread along the side walks? Toys and pirated dvds and used clothes and a xylophone you paid to play and…all things nice. All gone.

They only left the evangelicals, screaming into their microphone, singing to synthesizer beats about the way Jesus colored in the lines of the world, and how we all needed to be saved.

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Under the bridge, same L.A. river

I’m still impossibly sad. So this is reflecting on past glories. We headed east from Frogtown on Monday. Frogtown will get its very own post because it’s such an amazing place, but today it is the river. A piece of it, because there was too much.

Here is one of the most fascinating and strangely beautiful places I’ve encountered in L.A., and one that actually scared me. You are always being watched here. And no one can hear you scream.

But enough of the melodramatics, I respectfully took no pictures of the watchers, so let me show you the amazing and incredible bridge.

This is the outside, but it has unguessed depths, and that’s where you are being watched from. More of my people with nowhere else to go but the depths and darkness.

The ground is littered with spray cans and strange sculptures of rocks and wood piled high on top of each other. The world of graf artists and those seeking some kind of home coming together.

And the cars, I don’t know how they got down here, or when.

I love twisted pieces of rusted metal, I find them…beautiful. I think beautiful is the right word. But it’s a dark, jagged, decaying beauty of sharp lines and curves and deep shadows.

And the combination of rusted twisted metal, architecture, nature, and graffiti? Stunning.

The graffiti was incredible, I have to go back. You could spend days I imagine, documenting some of the tags, and a sunny day would be better. But I love rivers as much as dark places, and the river has nothing of the bridge’s enclosed creepiness, with all of the characters.

The view looking out from the caves was incredible too, if you like mazes of concrete and bridges and freeways

I do.

And to turn this place into a home? Someone had tied up things all along the fence. If I were a believer I would say this was brujeria, a witchcraft protection or warning, a wrapping of potent charms in black plastic bundled with flowers and wrapped in yellow cord and shoelace.

I’m not much of a believer at any rate. This guy was just fun.

From here we headed further east, even though that required cutting cross country. But more on that later…

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Late night meanderings far too early…

I ran into someone last night I’ve known for years, since he was a kid and he’s practically family. Now, luckily, the distant kind. He’s still the same. He was drunk, and showed me how he’d just been stabbed several times, and told me three different gangs would have my back if anyone messed with me. He was still hustling and still saying he was sorry. He was sorry all the time, and I believed it for a long time until I realized it was just to ease people into doing things for him. Because he always needed something from you. That hasn’t changed seems like.

I still remember once he was really drunk and who knows what else, and crying his eyes out and confessed to doing all of these truly horrible things that had truly fucked people over. And I sat there horrified, realizing for the first time that in reality he was just sorry for himself, and for the fact that none of these people (including me) liked him anymore. The real damage and impact of his actions on others hadn’t entered his mind at all, nor any conception of making up for what he had done, or doing things differently. Such a strange mixture of utter self absorption and the need to be liked by others, while using them for all he could get. And lies, all the time. Last night he told me I used to annoy him when he was coked out and he was sorry about that too because he really did love me. Made me want to cry really.

It’s funny timing I suppose, I’ve been realizing that someone else I know is almost entirely the same. Apart from being much more clever, well educated, and able to quote feminist theorists to prove his sensitivity. And also apart from the coke and gang affiliations, though funnily enough both share similar stories about the glory days of past violence. He also says he’s sorry all the time to get you to do things, and is better at backing it up with reasoned arguments and assurances. Though not by much, being a smooth talker comes with the hustle. Both of them are generous with what they have, the problem is that they always need so much more. The second doesn’t drink so there was no chance of such brutal honesty, it’s a bit more devastating, though, to fall for it all a second time. I suppose if you come from the ghetto this hustling without conscience will generally get you killed, and if you’re from a good family it means you excel at your profession.

The thing is, you never know what the word sorry means to someone else until you actually know them well. And giving people the benefit of the doubt and believing the best of them can make you a victim. And I don’t know quite what to do with that. I don’t mind being cynical about the world and how it works, but I’ll be damned if two sociopaths can make me cynical about all the people in it. Maybe just because that would be too easy. You so often see what you want to see, good or bad. But I would like to see what is actually there. And believe in spite of everything that there is much of both.

And me? I’ve been bending my own rules to protect myself. I don’t hold with lies, but turns out not telling the whole truth is almost as bad and hurtful. In a world like this, with people like this, trust and all it is built on is so fragile. When my own trust has been betrayed it has been utterly devastating, and to be in turn someone who breaks trust is equally so. So it’s been a rough few weeks, and the past two days especially.

Ah well, I suppose this is one of the great human questions…the nature of humanity itself really. I have far too much love for people (and kittens and flowers and old buildings and wine and good writing and etc) to be properly cynical, but every day less trust than before. And I wish there were a political framework that could deal with this microlevel and give me a vision of life after capitalism I could believe in. You can see what’s so pursuasive about religion, sometimes I wish I could belive in that stuff. I read Camus instead. And try to be moral. And try again when I fail. And make fun of myself and everything else that’s fucked up while doing so, because honestly, what else can you do?

Los Angeles River, part 1

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful river delta.

And now it is LA. The river flooded its (natural) banks and mocked the mighty city for the last time in 1938. The flood killed good citizens (must have been white and wealthy given the kerfuffle that followed) and led to the recall of a corrupt mayor (I have to look into that story a bit more, sounds like a good one…). Many would say that building a massive city in the middle of a flood plain is just not a good idea. But the army corps of engineers decided to take the river on, and I do believe they won.

It is now a long line of cement wells, a giant drainage ditch running from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro. And it is still beautiful, but a different sort of beauty. There are remnants of natural beauty of course, birds still abound here, there are islands of trees and long grasses. But it is all full of garbage, and the beauty rather heartbreaking in its proximity to ugliness.

Still, it’s a nice place to sit, relax, think about what once was, with all the comfort of home.

And the graffiti, the graffiti is incredible. It’s enough to make you love concrete and wide open fucked up spaces…And I do love this place

On Sunday we headed west from Frogtown, down towards the zoo and Burbank. Above are the old pylons that carried the red cars, another memory of LA’s catastrophic environmental policies…we scrapped them all in return for freeways. Who needs good public transportation anyway? Or a river. Still, the youth have reclaimed them and turned them into something very cool and particularly their own. And while I don’t care much for clowns, these two were pretty spectacular.

And I suppose biking down a path that runs directly beside a very busy freeway isn’t the best possible thing for your lungs, but the views are pretty sweet…

We biked, and hauled our bikes under the bridges when we had too, some of the most interesting stuff is down there anyway, I love this one

And I also love the fact that someone has a sense of humor

The “heroin addicts can’t spell” definitely made me laugh, as did “what if my parents saw me?” just to the left of it. And I love stencils, especially ones that make you pause for a minute and think…I love this one

The bridges are a riot of color underneath, a mix of art and gang graffiti and tags and stupid shit, all on top of each other. Everything is covered. Here’s a taste of it, along with a glimpse of our hot rides…

But it’s also the dark side of LA, the place where people live who have nowhere else to go. Sets me raging of course, that we live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world and yet cannot take care of our people. Ah capitalism… In fact, for all of our bridges, we don’t have enough of them to serve as shelters for the 70,000+ homeless in LA County. Though they are the shelter that exists, especially when it rains. The number of available beds does not even cover a fraction of the need. People live on the islands in the middle in blanket forts like the ones I made when I was a kid, and here…and what they leave behind them is always tragic, makes this sort of adventure smell much worse than it should, and is sometimes humorous. Often all of them at the same time.

A belt, a pair of boxers, and…er…it really pays not to look too closely at these things.

Love and hate, I love and hate this place as always. I would recommend you take a look, but definitely not alone.

Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.