Travel-summer Catchup: Vienna

Flickr pics now up:

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Blossom Ride

A friend had a last minute ticket to see Death Cab for Cutie at Astra in Friedrichshain tonight.  M kindly acceded to let me go, since there was only one ticket up for grabs.  He’s sweet that way.  I worked too late, as usual, and the train was going to be too slow so I rode my bike over.  F’hain seems like another world sometimes, but it was a 20 minute bike ride — about what it is from my house in Cherrywood to downtown Austin.  About half of the ride is through parks or along the canal.  Another part is on the tower bridge.  There were so many people on bikes that even on the busy roads there is a critical mass of cyclists.

We found some Indian food, talked about summer projects (writing!  music!  plant graffiti! getting organized!) and then went to the show.  The last time I saw Death Cab was on their Plans tour and honestly, the show was weak.  They were sloppy and Ben sang horribly.  M and I left agreeing that they may be a ‘studio band’.  Tonight was a whole other story.  It was a super tight, two hour set of old and new songs and the singing was just about perfect.  Their music is pastel and twee at times but I have no shame in admitting that sometimes the lyrics tear at my heart.  As they played the song that has one of the best lyrics of the last ten years, I had this blossom happen in my brain, or my heart, or my stomach, or all of the above.  The blossom said this:

This is why we go to rock concerts, because it is our church.

I am far away from Iowa, but it’s never far away.

How is it that someone can be so conventional that they become unconventional?

What we lose, by moving around, is community, but what we gain by staying: insanity and stagnation.

Why run?

Music cleans the soul.

It’s OK right here.

Afterwards I said goodbye to my friend and rode my bike home through the edge of Friedrichshain, over the river, down Skalitzer, through the sportpark, down the deep dark path by the canal, past lovers and a candle-lit picnic, over cobblestone streets, through the park, down the sidewalk and up into my hof.   I regularly have moments where I can’t believe I live here, and this bike ride was one of them.  But then I pull out my keys and they work in the door.

Must be home.

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Delhi Transport

M and I returned from India Sunday night and I’m still processing. I made the stupid decision to work the next day and it’s currently 25F and snowing here in Berlin — my brain has not caught up. India was the first developing country I have been to and it was an education. The trip was a great adventure.

We arrived into Delhi and got a cab to the guesthouse. This was our first shock. The airport was 8km from the guesthouse and it took us an hour and 15 minutes to get there. We quickly discovered that besides driving on the left side of the road like most former colonies, there are no lanes. All manner of vehicle and animal can be found on the roads and highways. Cars, jeeps, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, horse-drawn carts and free roaming cows along with people walking, sleeping, selling (anything) and cooking along the side of the road. And honking. Constant honking. The honking is a form of communication: I’m passing, I’m going that way, I’m coming through, move it, over here! It’s a conversation. Even the bicycles ring at you this way. Trucks and tuk-tuks (auto-rickshaws) even have “Please use horn” painted in lovely letters on the back to let them know you are passing them.

Most of the tuk-tuks have two-stroke engines, like lawn mowers, so the air pollution is thick. Many of the motorcycle riders wore scarves over their mouths to combat it. By the second day my eyes were puffy and swollen from the pollution. It is intense. It makes me worry about the collective lungs of Delhi.

After some time and lots of swerving and me having to close my eyes to avoid watching my oncoming death, we got to the guest house. It was mid-afternoon and we found most of the Americans in the wedding group already there. We were the last to arrive. The wedding festivities would start the next day. We needed some duds to wear to the wedding so we walked with a group to the neighborhood mall/market. I use the word “mall” loosely here. It was a 3-5 story tall series of buildings covered every which way with signs and run through with warren like walkways that had little stores tucked like bright closets in each. It was very easy to get disoriented.

Just the walk there was mind-bending. Cows. On the streets. Meandering. And dogs. And copious amounts of animal shit. And rick-shaws. Not tuk-tuks, but bicycle rickshaws with rail-thin, sinewy men straining away at the one-speed bikes pulling anywhere from 1-6 people and their stuff. And cars (honking). And garbage.

After some transactions and haggling at the market we took bicycle rickshaws back to the guesthouse, which, while being extremely weird that you’re paying someone to physically pull you down the road, was also kind of fun and way less scary than being in a car. This created some painful bends in my American brain around class, privilege and work. No matter what, in India I will always be perceived (correctly, in relative terms) as incredibly rich. It is always there, in every interaction, a mechanism for distancing and something that has to be negotiated. What does it mean to pay a human being the equivalent of 45 cents to pull my plump ass somewhere? Am I employing him and feeding his family? Taking advantage of a completely fucked system? Both? I felt these bends a lot while being there.

The second day of wedding festivities, M and I took the Delhi Metro train into Old Delhi to walk around and check out the Red Fort for the afternoon. The train is a modern marvel, rivaling any system I have used in Europe. They have built it over the last ten years and it moves a ton of people. It’s fairly easy to use and, for India, very clean. Much of the system is elevated and soars over parts of Dehli with stations every half mile or so. You can get a good view of the neighborhoods through the crazy smog. In Old Delhi it is buried quite deep beneath the old neighborhoods. There are women-only cars for women traveling alone, but since I was with M, we got on a mixed-sex car. There were a few families there but it was 98% men. We got The Look, but more on that in another post.

We emerged from the depths of this amazing modern train system into something out of a sci-fi novel with medieval premise. Chaos: beggars, people selling crap from the ground, Hannah Montana, Krishna, people everywhere up in your business, children, dogs, dogs, cows, motorcycles, huge soaring temples, more people, oh my god so many people, food, books, marigolds, cars, honking, hollering, garbage, so many people, whoa – another white person! It took us what felt like a half hour to go about six blocks to get to the Red Fort. By the time we were done we ended up getting a rickshaw back to the train station because India Stomach had set in and I couldn’t bear the crush. So goes transport in Delhi.

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Berlinerisch

constantnarrator is being resurrected. Yes, to the two people who may be RSS-ing the feed, I’m going to chronicle the external and internal mayhem brought about by moving from my warm snuggie of a home in Austin, Texas to the grey and deliciously Euro-urban climes of Berlin, Germany. You’ve been warned.

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Obamanos

Tonight I left work a little early and went to the county Democratic headquarters to help Yara get volunteers on buses bound for New Mexico and Missouri to campaign for Obama.  I arrived around 6pm on a Friday night, Halloween, and there were at least 40 people in the office, most making calls on behalf of Obama.  I’ve been to that office five times now and every time it is packed with people working their asses off.  Every kind of person, young, old, hip, slightly-crazy, all colors and sizes.  It’s amazing, inspiring and humbling.  I worked about four hours tonight and then left to pick up bphenix from the airport since Yara couldn’t leave the scene yet.  We sent three buses off, filled to the gills with enthusiastic people willing to ride 16 hours in a bus with strangers and spend their weekend, their vacation days, to block-walk to get Obama elected.

While I don’t subscribe to the Obama cult of personality, (he is, after all, a politician, an incredibly savvy one) I am so hopeful that we may finally have someone at the head of our government who sees more of the big picture, of the real threats and opportunities before us.  Someone who understands that every barrel of oil we buy diminishes our national security, and every barrel of oil we burn harms our planet.  Someone who gets that spending money now on education will save us billions in social welfare and prison costs.  Someone who groks that investing in research and new technologies yields long-term benefits for our economy and for every person participating in it.  Oh, I am daring to hope.  I am.  I yield my cynicism for a short time.

Let it be Wednesday. Let this interminable election be over.

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