December 12th, 2013 · Uncategorized
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December 6th, 2013 · Uncategorized
now, if you were teaching creative
writing, he asked, what would you
I’d tell them to have an unhappy love
affair, hemorrhoids, bad teeth
and to drink cheap wine,
to keep switching the head of their
bed from wall to wall
and then I’d tell them to have
another unhappy love affair
and never to use a silk typewriter
avoid family picnics
or being photographed in a rose
read Hemingway only once,
stare at photos of Gertrude Stein
and read Sherwood Anderson in bed
while eating Ritz crackers,
realize that people who keep
talking about sexual liberation
are more frightened than you are.
listen to E. Power Biggs work the
organ on your radio while you’re
rolling Bull Durham in the dark
in a strange town
with one day left on the rent
after having given up
friends, relatives and jobs.
never consider yourself superior and /
and never try to be.
have another unhappy love affair.
watch a fly on a summer curtain.
never try to succeed.
don’t shoot pool.
be righteously angry when you
find your car has a flat tire.
take vitamins but don’t lift weights or jog.
then after all this
reverse the procedure.
have a good love affair.
and the thing
you might learn
is that nobody knows anything–
not the State, nor the mice
the garden hose or the North Star.
and if you ever catch me
teaching a creative writing class
and you read this back to me
I’ll give you a straight A
right up the pickle
- Charles Bukowski, If I Were to Teach Creative Writing
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December 5th, 2013 · all hail the king, words
At the main train station of the German capital, the only open shops are the 24 hour pharmacy and the souvenir shop. Hungry travellers cross the square in front of the station with its yellow queue of taxis and the four-laned street to get to the greasy kebab stand at the bus stop opposite. It’s shortly before 11 pm on a Thursday.
From the tower at the Berlin-Spandau ship canal, where an old man holds vigil for his long-dead brother, you can no longer make out the old shacks and remnants of the Berlin wall on the other side at night. The pulsing yellow eyesore that is the faux circus tent of the Flic-Flac travelling circus for well-off Berliners is just too bright.
Sign of the times, surely.
November 22nd, 2013 · Uncategorized
The German tourists on the bus laugh as the pack of feral dogs crosses the street at the airport roundabout. And why should they not? There are three dirty Jack Russell terrier and one lanky greyish-brown greyhound, an odd-looking combination for a modern day pack of hounds. The tourists do not know that the dogs hunt hares in the bushes and undergrowth around the business parks in Dublin 15, tearing them to pieces. The dogs leave shreds of paws and ears and bits of bone lying around the car parks for unsuspecting call center workers.
I’m writing for one of Berlin’s best English-language Berlin websites, Slow Travel Berlin, for almost two years now. From a small niche-website dedicated to the spirit of slow travel it has become not only one of the best English-language online Berlin resources for travellers and Berliners alike, but also offers a wide selection of tours, workshops and events to help people engage with our city. We cover everything you won’t find in all the ‘20 Things To Do in Berlin’ on Huffpost, Buzzfeed and the Bild Zeitung. And now main man Paul and co-editors Marian and Giulia have worked with a number of our contributors to distill that spirit of discovery and wonder we (still) feel for Berlin every day into Slow Travel Berlin’s first book: 100 Favourite Places – which is available in print and e-versions and will be launched with a launch party next week. And in there you’ll find a small article about my favourite hidden watchtower with a photo by Kai Mülller a.k.a. Stylespion.
So come along and raise a glass with us next week and by all means buy a book. It’s a thing of (Berlin) love.
October 17th, 2013 · Uncategorized
THE area around the Essigfabrik, a former vinegar factory that is now a concert and party venue, does not look like much. To the left are the towering storage tanks of the Aurora flour factory, the white paint flaking off, to the right a few storage spaces and a fuel station. The venue itself has seen better days too. Its facade is 1980s concrete, sicklish-yellow. It’s raining and grey and cold, 7 degrees only. Colder than Berlin. Cologne/Rhine micro-climate my ass. Not the best conditions for a metal festival, even an indoor one, I guess. There are cars from France, Belgium and Holland parked all around, so the festival must be a hit with our European neighbours in metal, at least.
Things are different once I enter the main hall. There’s a massive stage at the rear end of the hall, with a large, animated LED screen replacing the meagre printed backdrops seen at other festivals, and even though the stage is visible from everywhere in the hall, there are two large video screens left and right of the stage and cameramen and -women covering all activity on stage from various angles. When I enter, the hall is half-filled with punters, about 500 would be my rough guess, and Ever Forthright are playing. The guys from New York seem to set the tone and feeling for the festival day for me – between rough mosh parts and complex drum and riff patterns they sprinkle a nice jazz piano and even a saxophone. Do hardened metal fans leave the hall? Not at all – everyone is celebrating Chris Barretto and Co., and the band even animates the crowd to a wall of death and a mosh pit. It’s not yet six in the evening.
October 9th, 2013 · all hail the king, words
This is the time for rain. For listening to Elliott Smith. For pumpkin soup. For cold feet, a runny nose and headaches. For the smoke of peat fires in the air and red and brown and yellow leaves rotting in the gutter. For dark mornings and warm beds. For stories, of faeries, Huldufólk , and trolls. For skulls and spiderwebs and the first testing fingers of frost. For sausages and strong beer. For realising that winter is coming, after all.
October 1st, 2013 · Uncategorized
September 24th, 2013 · Uncategorized
In June this year, I flew to London to buy Neil Gaiman’s new book ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane‘ the day it comes out, stand in a queue like the good fanboy I am (he’s my favorite author, after all) to get it signed AND attend a Q&A session with him to leap up some writing wisdom and maybe shake his hand. The handshake did not happen.
The evening plane touches down and I am in London again, after over a year, the capital of the old empire where the Queen’s corgis still piss on manicured lawns. From the air, it looked like a giant illuminated cancer, ever-growing outwards, light-polluting the dark land around it.
My B&B is in an old Victorian villa off Holland Park Avenue in Notting Hill and looks nice from the outside. Inside, it is filled with black-and-white pictures of the Serbian royal family, bleached-out chintz and other knick-knackery, dead flowers in enormous vases and old sabers collecting dust on the walls. My room is the former ante-room of the apartment that used to be on the second floor, and the door leading to the next room has been over-papered with the same sicklish-orange wallpaper that decorates the rest of my room. The place is run by the ‘Association of Serbian Chetniks in the UK’, and I’m not sure if I like this, but it’s cheap and the location is not bad.
While I had lusted after a full English breakfast the days before, the breakfast is a dismal proto-socialist affair: four slices of toast, sweaty spam and cheese, the cheapest yoghurt they could find in the supermarket and, at least, a banana, served by two elderly ladies in plastic aprons and with slimy coughs with Serbian TV running in the background.
I walk from Notting Hill Gate along Bayswater Road to Marble Arch. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are filled with groups of Italians standing in the way and hip British teenagers throwing frisbees and clusters of jogging mums all in the same grey jumper, and I walk past the memorial of John Hanning Speke, a Victorian explorer who discovered Lake Victoria and who did not die of an exotic disease or assegais in Africa, but instead blew the top of his head off when he was cleaning a rifle in his London living room.
The next day, I join the queue at Forbidden Planet at ten in the morning, and wait for four hours with all the other guys who want to get their copy of the book signed, and a girl dressed as Death of the Endless shares chocolates with everyone, and the two women behind me keep talking about music, periodical pains and a common friend who looks like Jesus for four hours straight, but then I am ushered inside and grab a book and Neil Gaiman signs it and I walk to the checkout.
In the evening I dress in a white shirt and black jacket, as you do when you go to a theatre in the West End, and drink a glass of red wine at the theatre bar, before I take a seat in a large room that is too hot. But it’s sold out, to Gaiman-fans mostly, and there are sombre literary types in black polo-neck jumpers and rimmed glasses, and women in top hats and with parasols and with colorful butterflies tattooed on their back. Neil talks about music, his whistle-worthy wife and cats and the origins of stories, and I want to kidnap him and keep him in the closet under the stairs so I can always push my half-filled notebooks in his face and tap on an empty page. He looks tired and his hair is a mess, but he leaves to standing ovations, and afterwards I drink ale in the pub around the corner from my B&B and read his book in two hours. It makes me cry, twice, but no one sees it.
That night, before flying home, I dream that an ugly brown spider as big as my hand is chasing me through my apartment, but I am saved by two grey cats that suddenly appear out of nowhere and crunchingly devour the spider.
September 11th, 2013 · all hail the king, webstuff, words
…so while I’m struggling through getting the one of my grandmother committed to paper, I’ve started re-reading some of my favourite novels and short story collections, for motivational purposes, mainly. One of these books is The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, a book I’ve been reading over and over again for the last years. It has a conceptual shark, a smiley toe tattoo and a cat named Ian in it. If these reasons are not enough to convince you to pick up a copy, maybe Tilda Swinton can help. Here she is, reading from the book.
Warning: the text you’ll hear is ‘live’ and extremely dangerous.