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September 2018
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Been readin’

Like always, I am often found with a book in my hand – recently including two actual books (like on paper), and one on my Kindle that is actually a collection of three works by one author.

There is a common theme through the three books that I’m reading.

Starting up with a recommendation by a friend in Hamburg, I read Late Nights on the Air by Elizabeth Hay – set in a radio station at Yellowknife. The book reminded me of (at least in the first part) of works by Tom Bodett – at the End of the Road (among others). It’s really hard for me to qualify how – other than the fact that both authors capture some kind of intrinsic essence of living in the rural, cold, north. The flashbacks I had to the body of Tom Bodett’s work caught me off guard – making me wish I had copies of his books to re-read. It’s been way too long.

The book took a somewhat dark turn at one point – something that caught me off-guard, but actually dovetailed the book in the collected works.

The largest one, The Collected Works of Grey Owl, is a startling work: writing in the 1930s, Grey Owl is remarkably perceptive about the environment. In fact, the book sounds like it was written today:

I’m currently reading about his two pet beavers – and am not really ready to say anything about it, other than the idea of having two pet beavers is cute.

He also says some nice things about his home, Canada:

All of this, by the way, is not meant to ignore some of the inate controversy about Grey Owl himself: Grey Owl is actually an Englishman, Archibald Stansfeld Belaney. It’s not clear to me if he bestowed the name upon himself (thus meaning cultural misappropriation) or if it was bestowed upon him by a local native. I’m not a scholar in this area and I do not want to wade into this mess – rather, I want to focus on the fact that he is a transformational figure in Canadian conservation/environmental history, changing Canada for the better.

The third book I’m reading is a collection of poems by Billy-Ray Belcourt, This Wound is a World. Poetry is not something that generally speaks to me, but I decided to take a whack at it. Again, it’s not what I normally read, but his poetry seems to work for me. If you want to know more about who he is, his bio, stolen from his website, says:

Billy-Ray Belcourt (he/him) is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is a Ph.D. student and 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar in the Department of English & Film Studies at the University of Alberta; he is at work on a creative-theoretical project called “The Conspiracy of NDN Joy.” He is also a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and holds an M.St. in Women’s Studies from the University of Oxford and Wadham College.

There’s a common theme running between these three works – all represent, on some level, my next vacation.

Colorado in August

Republic Plaza Tower

My big trip in August was to Colorado – off to see the family and a plethora of friends.

All-in-all, my time in Denver was time well spent. There wasn’t a single disappointing meet-up or other time wasted. I ended up going to a total of five museums, four meals out with friends, and two Colorado Rockies games.

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum (RMQM)

Some of the museums ended up being really cool – like the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, which is in a store front out in Golden, Colorado. This year was my second visit and I can say that with its rotating exhibitions, I will probably keep returning every time I visit Denver. This time the principle special exhibition was “Pieced Together—Patchwork Quilts from Russia” – with some beautiful work.

Clyfford Still Museum

The same day, I also stopped by the Clyfford Still Museum and the (relocated) Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts. It was my first time at the Clyfford Still Museum – as an artist he crossed onto my map because of a YA novel by Robin Reardon, Educating Simon – in which the title character uses art by Clyfford Still to communicate with his stepsister. What I can say is that Clyfford Still’s art is as described in the book. Ultimately it is a bit too abstract for me – but I’m glad I visited.

With respect to the Kirkland Museum, what I can only say is that in its new location, it just has more space and is, somehow, better organized with respect to time. However, it remains rather cluttered and it is impossible to take it all in. As the third museum in one day, I was too mentally exhausted to fully appreciate its new (and old) surroundings.

The Navarre Building

That said, the absolute best museum in Denver is clearly the American Museum of Western Art. At only $5 for entrance (without a tour, but with an audio guide), this place is a stunningly wonderful place to pass a morning.

The other things in Denver – were all pretty personal. It’s awesome catching up with friends from throughout my life, including time in Denver (middle school, high school), Laramie, and Bloomington.

Dear Apple,

By the time you read this, it will be too late: I’ve made the decision to shift my custom away from Apple environment.

My gateway drug, the Apple iPhone, is not for me. I still remember when it was for me: It was at the WEBMU in Bremen (I think) where PapaScott showed me his iPhone and I was like – I want that. Within a week, I had one. It was amazing – and, quite frankly, put Apple back on the map for me.

A little while later, I bought myself a laptop computer. A MacBook. The MacBook was perfect for me and it became my constant companion.

Eventually I replaced my first iPhone with another iPhone – eventually landing on the iPhone 5. I also replaced my first MacBook with a newer version (a MacBook Pro that is now, as I type on it, rapidly closing in on its 6th birthday).

However, things are not going so well –the newest iPhones, to be blunt, are crap and my MacBook has developed some odd quirks that ought to be looked at.

On the iPhone front: I am a thumb typist. When I hold my iPhone in my hand, I hold it with my right hand and type with my right thumb. My hand is big enough to do this on the iPhone 5. It is not big enough to do it on the iPhone 6, 7, 8, or X. Thus, when it came time to replace my iPhone 5, I went with an iPhone SE.

Am I happy with it? No – not really: I am content with it. The podcast app is a disaster (some podcasts are unsubscribed for no apparent reason) and most App developers seem to forget that the iPhone SE screen dimensions are still out there. The main benefit of having an iPhone SE is that it is not attractive to thieves – it’s too old fashioned and out of date to be worth anything to anyone but me.

With respect to the MacBook, I am frustrated. Last October I said to myself, I will need to buy a new MacBook. I even did some passive research, deciding that for what I use my laptop, I didn’t need a MacBook Pro, but rather a MacBook – but that I wanted to wait for the newest generation to come out. I’ve budgeted a decent amount of money for this.

In the meantime, I’ve been waiting.

Unfortunately, my MacBook Pro has developed some odd quirks and I would like to have it looked at. However, whenever I look at available appointments for the Apple Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Berlin, nothing is available. I’ve looked in the morning. I’ve looked at night. I’ve never seen an available appointment.

I decided to pop by the store last Friday.

Now I do not fault the greeter who attempted to help me, none of the facts that he informed me of are his fault, but it boiled down to this: (1) there were no more walk-ins available on Friday, as of 2:00; (2) my best bet was to show up at 10:00 Saturday morning and be prepared to wait; and (3) once accepted, it is 8 to 12 working days before computers are repaired and returned.

Excuse me?

Eight to Twelve Days to repair a computer?

The greeter explained that it was because the Apple Store was the only one in Berlin and that maybe I would have better luck at one of the other authorized servicing companies in Berlin: same quality of service, he assured me, but it might take longer.

After listening to him go through this, what I understood was, “if you buy a new computer from us, good luck ever getting it repaired.”

In an instant my mind was made up: I’ve been using an Apple MacBook since about 2010 and the iPhone since about 2008. It is time to return to Windows.

Sorry to go,

Adam

PS – A bit of casual research after writing the above indicates I actually had an iPod before the iPhone – but the iPod’s functions were subsumed into the iPhone, so I forgot that I’d ever had one. I haven’t touched an actual iPod in over two years at this point. I own two, but they are never used.

One Night in Paris for Kent Monkman

I’ve gone all in on Kent Monkman: When I noticed that he would have an exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, I decided it was time for a trip to Paris. Mind you, I haven’t been to Paris in close to a decade and that I fall in to the distinct minority of people who don’t get Paris. Surely, I know that Paris is beloved by many, but when it comes time for me to explore the city, I just don’t get it.

Canadian Culture Center Paris: Kent Monkman

So instead of trying to make it an extended visit, I flew over Sunday morning and back Monday evening, making the center of my plans for Monday to visit the Canadian Cultural Center. That was, by far, the best hour of my trip.

Canadian Culture Center Paris: Kent Monkman

The rest of the time in Paris… meh…

Visiting Gdańsk

May is a month with many legal holidays.

Fahrenheit Memorial

Combining the first one, May 1st, with the last weekend in April, plus taking Monday off, I headed to Gdańsk in Poland. I was sold on Gdańsk because it’s home to the Fahrenheit Memorial. Naturally, it became my first stop, providing me a place in the picturesque heart of Gdańsk to see the temperature in Fahrenheit. And Celcius.

Fahrenheit Memorial

Saturday morning, I headed to Costa Coffee – a chain I know well from the United Kingdom. It was if I was in a Costa in the heart of London: all the employees were Polish.

Westerplatte

After my morning coffee, I Übered to Westerplatte, which is where World War II started. Germany’s first attack was on the Polish fort (err: Military Transit Depot), which held out for a remarkably long time. I spent about two hours wandering the grounds – it’s a fascinating place, with the ruins of bunkers, buildings, and a large memorial that honors the memory of Westerplatte.

Westerplatte

Of course, it is hard to transport one’s self back in time to imagine what it was like to defend this tiny piece of land from the invading Germans. Given the communist years where the government simultaneously wished to forget and remember the soldiers at Westerplatte, the ruins are both enough and not enough.

Westerplatte

From there, I took the bus from Westerplatte to the city center, right near the European Solidarity Center, which honors the memory of the Solidarity movement that, ultimately, took Poland out from communist control. A long time ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Lech Walesa speak at Indiana University Bloomington – he was a famous person – introduced to the stage by one of my classmates. (This was before his anti-gay remarks, which, to be honest, goes to show that even people who trigger great societal changes are often imperfect.)

The European Solidarity Center annoyed me: from a poorly designed (physically speaking) audio guide with automatic playing features that triggered recordings that were not always right, combined with a huge amount of textual information posted on signs, it was overwhelming and, to me, frustrating. There were also glass stairs – with some attempt to make the treads look solid, but I found the glass stairs incredibly unnerving to walk up, so much so that I took the elevator. (Going down was slightly better: I could look up and grip the hand rail tightly – I did not see signs for an elevator alternative.)

I also glanced at their (then new) temporary exhibition, which had signs that I could not read for two reasons: small type on a sign posted high up and lights positioned incorrectly over the reflective surface.

ESC sign

It was, to be blunt, a relief to leave the ESC.

Sunday started the same way as Saturday: Costa Coffee.

World War II History Museum

Thereafter I headed to the Museum of the Second World War. I won’t spend too much time on this museum. From my personal perspective, it was nothing new – other than the fact that it was from the Polish perspective. Having read a lot of history as a kid, living in Germany for over a decade, and having visited more than my fair share of World War II sites, there was nothing excitingly new presented to me at the Museum of the Second World War. Other than, of course, the Polish perspective – which was surprisingly muted.

World War II History Museum

One thing that did surprise me about the museum is that it is in Polish and English. I would have expected it to be in German as well, if anything to make sure that the neighboring nation, with its millions of potential tourists, could show up and learn about what awful people they were (are?) in their own language. In that sense, the Polish perspective was hugely muted.

Really, the only time I became annoying with the Polish perspective was toward the end of the museum, when it talked about how Poland was betrayed by the western Allies, left to the control of the Soviet Union, meaning that when the war was over, it wasn’t actually over, because the Polish people then had to suffer through communism.

I’ll agree to that point: communism sucked. But to stick this discussion into a museum about World War II is to jam too much into the museum. The European Solidarity Center is the place for that discussion.

The rest of Sunday and all of Monday were devoted to the beach: I took the tram (well, substitute bus service) out to the end of the line and wandered down the beach until I found a quiet spot to lay out my towel and read my book. I was reading You Gotta Have Wa, a charming book about baseball in Japan, which ends up being about far more than just baseball, but about the Japanese and the way they live.

Tuesday I had a quiet morning – breakfast at a café, a wander through the city, and then I boarded a bus back to the airport and planes back to Berlin.

Gdańsk is worth visiting, but only once.

The Croatian Scam?

It started simply enough: I was walking down the street when a young man stopped me and asked, “Do you speak English?”

He didn’t fit my profile of people to whom I say, “I’m terribly sorry, but no, I do not speak English! What a terrible misfortune. I wish you luck in finding somebody who does speak English.”

Instead he fit the profile of people who look vaguely lost and need directions, I said, “Yes.”

“Do you know any Croatians?” he queried.

“No,” I replied.

“So, you only know Germans?” he asked.

“I don’t know any Croatians,” I said.

We then started a brief discussion where I admitted I was an American and he wanted to know why Kansas and Arkansas were pronounced so differently – “I have family in Arkansas,” he said.

It was in this moment that I suddenly recalled that this wasn’t the first time I’d been asked if I knew anybody from Croatia.

The last time had been a very cold evening, as I was returning home from a party. Coming out of the U-Bahn station, it had occurred to me that I needed to pee. And pee badly. The multiple half-liters of hefeweizen were coming back to haunt me.

About 20 meters from my front door, a young man had stopped me – with the very same series of questions: “Do you speak English?” and “Do you know any Croatians?”

I don’t recall the exact tale of woe that I was told 18 months ago, but the young man who stopped me today was a construction worker who was going to get paid tomorrow, but last night his roommate had been too drunk and he’d had to sleep in a hostel. He now needed 12€ to pay off his hostel bill.

There’s no way I will ever pull out my wallet on the street to give money to somebody on the street so I lied: “Sorry, I don’t have any money on me.”

“How will I pay my bill,” the guy asked me.

“Good luck,” I answered as I started walking again.

May all the Croatians I don’t know, who live in Berlin, stop rooming with alcoholics.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

Last Sunday I headed up toward northern Berlin, a part of the city I have not really taken the time to explore. This time I wanted to see the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide, one of the three (that I know of) Soviet memorials to World War II in Berlin.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

Surprisingly, the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide is of human scale: unlike the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, at Schönholzer Heide, it felt human. It had a bigger impact on me. According to Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, 13,200 out of the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died during the Battle of Berlin are buried here.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

My Sunday morning visit was peaceful — and thoughtful; as one is often given to reflection when visiting memorials.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

For the complete photo set: Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide.

Don’t Be Stupid Fucking Tourists

I actually uttered this words on a bus earlier this year.

I was somewhere random and needed to go somewhere else random and, like magic, there happened to be a bus that connected the two points. You might think that this is a one off, but the professionals at BVG, the Berlin Public Transit Group, have strung together the most amazing collection of bus routes that connect places in a single seat ride that you wouldn’t think are possible.

Anyhow, I got on this bus, sat down and started reading, not really paying attention.

At the next stop, two people wanted to get on the bus, but the back doors were not opening – the front door was open. Then a woman on the bus, pressed the button to open the doors so that she could get off and these two people got on the bus and immediately sat down.

This I did notice and I knew immediately that these bozos were engaging in fare evasion, thinking to myself, “what assholes.”

Unfortunately for these two people, the bus was quiet enough that the driver noticed and he yelled at them over the PA system, in German, to come to the front and show their tickets.

These two geniuses remained seated and said back, “We don’t speak German.”

So I intervened.

“He wants to see your tickets, so go show them.” – or something like that — The guy got up with his backpack, went to the front of the bus, and started rummaging through his bag. Another clear sign of fare-evading assholes: my public transport ticket is something I show at least twice a day, so I keep it easily accessible.

The girl continued to look confused, and I continued to talk, “Don’t be stupid fucking tourists.”

Clearly It isn’t rocket science to figure out that when you’ve entered a bus in the middle or back and the bus driver starts yelling at you, you need to show your ticket. You do not even need to speak the same language to figure this out.

Perhaps my second comment was unnecessarily cruel, but it’s the basic truth: if you are a tourist, it is incumbent upon you to figure out how public transportation works in the place you are visiting. I’ve made it a point to study how bus systems work in different places – before I get there: Chicago, London, Washington DC, Lisbon, and Kiel – to name a few.

About the only place I’ve ever been completely stumped in advance (and in person) was Lund, Sweden. At the time, the only way to buy a single ride was to use your Swedish mobile phone and to do it via SMS. Otherwise, tourists from outside the country could only buy expensive day-passes and I wanted only one ride. (Even today, you still cannot buy tickets on the bus in most of Sweden unless you use a contactless card; it’s obtuse and confusing, trust me; this from somebody who figures it out in advance.)

Still, after not figuring it out in advance or in person, I approached the bus (mind you I do not speak Swedish) at the front, with the driver, and begged to be let on. I didn’t brazenly behave like an asshole tourist.

I have zero sympathy for tourists (and locals) who evade paying fares.

It gives me a thrill when I see ticket inspectors haul people off of the u-bahn or bus (and not frequently enough from the bus) and fine them for not paying.

What’s also funny is that even though I rarely ride the u-bahn, I have come to recognize some of the fare inspectors, already pulling out my wallet to show that I’m an honest customer, even before the doors to the train are completely shut.

Newfoundland – tick!

Cape Spear Lighthouse

After having flown over Newfoundland and Labrador more times that I care to count – even once stopping for fuel on a Continental 757 flying from Berlin to Newark – I decided it was high time to actually visit Newfoundland, specifically St. John’s.

I timed the trip to take advantage of Reformationstag, the day celebrating 500 years since Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church in Wittenberg. This year – and only this year – Reformationstag was a legal holiday in every Bundesländer – so by taking Friday and Monday off, I had an instant 5 day weekend.

Getting there I flew on Lufthansa and Air Canada: first an A321 to Frankfurt, then an A320 to London, and then an A319 to St. John’s. At the time spent increased, the plane sized decreased, until, ultimately, I checked into my hotel in St. John’s, where I was assigned room 318.

Some quick impressions: St. John’s is a very understandable city; at least for me. I walked around downtown my first afternoon, looking in some shops and buying a new winter coat, which I was in the market for regardless. I bought it at The Outfitters, a local sporting goods shop, where a very helpful assistant assisted me.

Unfortunately, I put my foot in my mouth to some extent: his accent was nothing like what I expected. Somehow, I guess that I expected a heavier version of the Maine accent, but with Canadianisms thrown on at the end, eh? Instead, to my poorly qualified ear, the guy sounded like he was straight from Sydney – and not the one in Nova Scotia, but the one down under. I wish I’d kept my mouth shut, because I asked. Over the next 70 hours, I would hear his accent, or other versions of it, from different people. Seriously, it’s a charming accent and the way English is used is quite different from what I expected.

Happily, though, I found a terrific winter jacket that might actually be a shade too warm for what I want, but it is still fantastic – the assistant was patient and helpful, so I offer great thumbs ups to The Outfitters.

Beyond that I was proud of the fact that I managed to stay awake until 8pm, by walking around town, eating seafood for dinner, then looking at an art gallery opening. After that, I was pretty promptly out.

Morning from Cape Spear

Saturday, I woke up pretty early and headed out to Cape Spear to watch the sunrise. I got incredibly lucky: although the horizon was cloudy, the colors were magnificent. I probably spent about an hour wandering the grounds of Cape Spear, including visiting the monument marking Canada’s furthest east point.

Cape Spear Lighthouse

After that I visited The Rooms – a local provincial museum that is perched awkwardly on top of a hill overlooking the city. The museum is actually quite interesting (dried cod notwithstanding), but the actual museum is in a building that I think is excessively large and out of scale when compared to the city it oversees.

From there it was to Signal Hill, where I had a panoramic view of everything I had already done, including Cape Spear and The Rooms.

St. John's from Signal Hill

Newfoundland spoke to me in the way that Wyoming spoke to me. The specifics of the scenery are different, but they the people interact with the surroundings and the overwhelmingly rural nature of the province are similar to Wyoming. There are more people and more moisture, but I had this sense of independence and fortitude that resonated with me. I could actually see living in Newfoundland.

Dinner Saturday night was at Raymond’s, a restaurant that was recently reviewed in The New York Times – it was well worth the time and money. I’ve been to only a very few restaurants that are as attentive to details in both the cooking of the food and in the service as Raymond’s. If I ever return to St. John’s, I would happily eat there again.

Sunday way my Newfoundland road-trip day, and I had two destinations in mind.

Once the first one was out of the way, I had a few hours to kill as the Toutons and Tunes tour did not begin until 2:00, so I took a leisurely tour of region where both Dildo and Bay Roberts are located, heading to the city of Heart’s Content, where I discovered the first Transatlantic Cable Station, and a line marking where the cable from Europe came ashore.

Transatlantic Cable Crossing at Heart's Content

Then I wandered down to the city of Bay Roberts, where I took the Toutons and Tunes tour. Toutons are a fried bread dough pastry that is served with molasses. These were waiting for us at the end of the tour, along with local high school students playing traditional tunes. Further, as I was on the last tour of the season, both mussels and a seafood stew were prepared – talk about being incredibly lucky!

Bay Roberts seashore

The tour was charming: in addition to me, the oddball European resident visiting for the weekend, there was a German foreign exchange student, and about 6 or 7 locals. The first 15 minutes of the tour were spent understand where people came from and how they were related to everybody else. Once this was established we walked along the seashore to the red building where the toutons and tunes were awaiting. Along the way, there were a couple of stops, where local history was shared.

Berries along the coast

All-in-all, it was an excellent, densely packed, weekend. St. John’s is a charming city and the province is beautiful. I only have two more provinces and the three territories left to go before I’ve completed Canada.

19 years, but who’s counting?

Last weekend I was in Chicago, where I caught up with one of my early gay IU friends. We talked about a number of things – including the coming out process and what it was like to come out (whether to ourselves or to others) at Indiana University in the late 1990s.

But the thing that dominate my memories about my early years at IU is Matthew Shepard.

In October 1998, I had been living in Bloomington, Indiana, for a mere month and a half. I was finding my footing on a number of levels: figuring out what I was doing in school, figuring out how to be gay, figuring out my favorite hangout in Bloomington, and the myriad of other things that happens when you move to some place new.

I could go all maudlin and talk about how I felt – sitting in my office (which no longer exists), realizing that somebody had been brutally beaten in Laramie, Wyoming – reading between the lines for the scant information in the online edition of the UW Branding Iron student newspaper and realizing the victim was gay – feeling my world slowly shut down, going home to my one bedroom apartment, where I crawled into its large closet to cry and to feel safe.

Nineteen years later, these memories remain visceral. Palpable. Tangible in a way that few memories from that era remain tangible.

Sitting in my Berlin living room, roughly 4,500 miles from my Bloomington living room, roughly 5,000 miles from where Matthew Shepard was pistol whipped, tied to a fence, and left to die.

Wait, that’s an incomplete sentence: pausing to reflect, as I do each year in early October, and I regress in my emotions, my feelings, my thoughts, back to how I felt in October 1998: helpless, isolated, insulated, vulnerable.

Certainly, I have these moments as a grown-up, grown-up, but these emotions are acute and raw when I reflect upon and remember Matthew Shepard.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever stop feeling this way when I pause to think about Matthew Shepard. Sometimes I hope that I will. Other times I remember that it is important that I never forget how I felt as the Matthew Shepard story unfolded over the seven long days between the time Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie and when he died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – *December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998


For historical reference, see 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 20132014, 2015, 2016, or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.