Well, I finally arrived in Prague! On Friday I went to Radio Free Europe’s headquarters, where I’ll be interning for the next two months, and then yesterday I wandered around Prague’s center. I took lots of shots, but I don’t even know half of what I photographed, so after a few more tours, I’ll collate everything together. But one site that needed no introduction was the famed Charles Bridge. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
Archive for the Travels Category
Well, thanks to my inability to wake up on time combined with the wonders of mass transit, which are as unpredictable in Belgium as they are anywhere else save perhaps Manhattan, I missed my flight yesterday. Perhaps it was fortunate, though, because it afforded me the opportunity to do something I’ve been itching about ever since I arrived in Belgium: visit the Atomium.
Many of my Belgian friends have laughed at the very idea. For them, the Atomium is a mighty expression of kitsch. I agree, but on the kind of azure day like today, it can also be very beautiful in its silly, peculiar way. And if my friends don’t mind my boldness, perhaps what really embarrasses them is the Atomium’s childish honesty about the ideology of hope in science that made it. Nowadays in Belgium, circumspection is arguably a way of life.
Anyway, the Atomium has had a special place in my imagination. You see, due to my mother’s love for both art history and science, I grew up hearing quite a bit about Belgium, which has long been a country of both aesthetic and technological innovation. Alongside Magritte, the Atomium has stood at the intersection of reason and art. One of my clearest memories from childhood is of my mother showing me a photograph of the structure.
Since returning from the Netherlands over the weekend, and then watching the brutality of the Dutch national team on Sunday, I’ve been having a hankering to watch Mel Gibson films, especially the Mad Max trilogy. These were old favorites from childhood and remain so into adulthood. Incidentally, whenever I go to the Netherlands, especially the Hague, I always end up with an itch to watch or read something apocalyptic…
Anyway, tomorrow I head off to Prague for two months. I’ll be interning with Radio Liberty, otherwise known as Radio Free Europe from its communist-fighting days. As much as I intrinsically like Leuven, I’m welcoming the temporary change of scenery. I need to be somewhere more metropolitan and older to recharge. As to the internship, I’m actually not sure what I’ll be doing exactly, but whatever I end up doing, I’ll try to take it easy, get my groove back after what has been a very rocky year and a half in Europe.
And I’m also reliably informed that Czech women are beautiful. I’ll soon be able to scientifically verify this.
Well, I’m back in the illustrious Hague for the next few days, crashing at my friend Ben’s place again and working on CyberChaikhana. Something deep inside me feels very at odds with this characterless city. Yes, there are some, so to say, ontologically positive things here — the M.C. Escher museum, the Mauritshuis, and of course the International Criminal Court — but this place is so bourgeois and transitory, nigh devoid of passion, and the class differences here are nauseating, that sometimes I just want to scream at the streets.
Yet, I keep getting called back, and not just because one of my dearest friends is here; in the end, this city seems to be some kind of fallback or refuge for me, such as when I was stuck in the Netherlands during the December 2009 blizzard. Anyway, I’m here again for the next few days. While I’m gone from Belgium, if you’re curious to see some of my photographic impressions of the Hague by night, click on the gloomy daylit photograph above.
Although drinking alcohol is against my faith as a Baha’i — and besides, I was never much of a drinker anyway — there’s no point to living in Belgium if one doesn’t try the world famous beers. Hence, I sample, usually just a few sips, occasionally a full bottle. The Flemings’ enthusiasm for beer is intoxicating to experience and they have a good laugh at my lack of skill in “proper pouring”.
My roster of Belgian beers so far is perhaps not that impressive. A few Chimays, a Duvel or two, too many Hoegaardens (I’m not a fan) and Stella Artois (even less of a fan), a nauseatingly sweet Kasteel, and a few Westmalles (delicious). Well, tonight I had the privilege to drink an entire Westvleteren 12, which is renowned as the world’s best beer.
Ah français! Je vous peux écrire et lire (avec l’assistance d’un dictionary et avec graimmaire trés mal), mais quand je vous parle, c’est péché contre la décence. Ah well, j’ai été étudant vous pour seulement neuf mois, avec nombreuses interruptions malheureuses. Aussi j’ai apprendrant informelle votre petites némésis, néerlandais.
Mais, déjà je sait qui sont mes mots préférés: en néerlandais sont «dageraad», qu’en anglais est «sunrise», et «wijsbegeerte», littéralement «lust for wisdom», un traduction du mot grecque «philosophia» que je sens est très approprié. En français peut-être il est «visage», qu’en anglais est «countenance». Et par parenthèse, sûrement en anglais «verdant», qu’en français indique fécondité, fertilité, forêts, etc., et évidemment le couleur vert.
Tous ces mots résonnent bellement dans mes oreilles et parlent à moi de la réelle existentielle qu’est simultanément intime profondément et au-delà de l’intimité — une irruption les eaux de la sublimité et une éruption de la vapeur du soi. Mais sur terre, j’aime vivre en belgique parce qu’ici je suis nagerant dans langues. Pour moi, cosmopolitanisme donne beaucoup de joies, existentielle, spirituelle, et cognitive!
Finally, some photos from around town, here, there, and everywhere. Happy birthday, Mom!
There’s a very Baroque, former Jesuit church around the corner from the Stadhuis, called Saint Michael’s. The Baha’is run interfaith prayer groups here, and my thesis promoter, Jules Janssens the well-known Avicenna specialist, happens to be a member of its congregation.
Today is my mother’s birthday, and although I have spent many of my father’s birthdays abroad, this is actually the first of my mother’s, so it’s significant in a metaphorical way that I can’t yet put my finger on. But on a less somber note, I promised her long-overdue photographs of Leuven, so here they are! To begin, this is of course the famous Stadhuis, with a neighboring building.
Here is a story for you. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the best one to tell you, but it’s the first one that comes to mind whenever I think of Halloween or Israel.
It was October 31, 2004 — Halloween — and I found myself in Lud, Israel. Lud is a terrible, desperate place. I’ve sometimes heard Palestinians from the Gaza Strip refer to it as “hell.” There are sections of the city where the houses are constructed of stapled aluminum siding and dried mud. The more civilized sections are fortresses. Most of the residents live in giant concrete blocks. The city elite (cops, politicians, and drug dealers) live in walled mansions. Lud’s dealers pioneered “ATM drugs”: the junkie walks up to a tiny slit in the wall of his or her dealer’s mansion, deposits some shekels, and out pops their heroin.
I had just returned from the north, visiting Nazareth, Akka, and Haifa, and other places. I saw the minarets of Qalqiyah and Tulkarem peeking out over the top edge of the notorious Separation Wall and tendrils of black smoke from burning tires licking the blue sky. I visited a small village called Kufr Manda, a poor farming community of Palestinians that had lost two of their sons in protests and whose hearts I would later break. And I drank coffee with Bedouins — it had been brewed for three days and had the sharp texture of fine red wine.
On the return journey by train I was aiming for Ramle, near Lud, but overshot and ended up in Beer Sheva, deep in the south. Israel’s a small country; such things can happen. Several hours later, deep into the night and even deeper in the Negev desert, I sat with two security guards in the railway terminal of Beer Sheva. One guard was a newly immigrated Russian; the other, a second-generation Sepharadi. They had just finished their mandatory military service. They both served in Gaza, protecting the Israeli settlements there.
“I once saw a terrorist with a rocket,” the Russian said. “I shot him.”
“I ran over an Arab with my tank,” the Sepharadi said. “I don’t know if he was a terrorist.”
They both grinned with a savage joy. The Russian was twenty-four; the Sepharadi, twenty-one.
Since my last blog entry I have been very sick. Don’t panic, but yes, the symptoms have matched those of the flu, and yes, it has demonstrated the speed and intensity that distinguishes a certain bacon-based export from Mexico.
Happily, after sleeping away my week, I’m feeling 75% normal. I’ve still got one of history’s most disturbing coughs, Droopy Dog sniffles, and persistent fatigue.
I intend to spend this weekend trying to get back in the loop at neweurasia and school. I’ve got lots of articles to edit and philosophy to read. Can Medieval Islamic Aristotelian thought cure me? Let’s find out…
Hahaha it seems that Belgium is full of wonderful surprises for me! *cough *cough
It’s been a long, eventful week of orientation, registration, and assimilation. My Dutch vocabulary has already expanded threefold and I’m even picking up on the basics of grammar and tenses. This coming week will prove challenging in a new way: choosing courses and arranging schedules.
I’m continually amazed at the sheer amount of hobbies and social activities of the Flemish youth, and while Americans may be far more mature when it comes to working and self-sufficiency, we lag way behind in intellectual and emotional maturity. The family is also very prominently at the core of Belgian society, symbolized by the dinner table — something that used to be true in the United States.
Clearly there is a difference of values: we judge a person’s merit by their ability to work, while Belgians judge by their social well-being. (More thoughts to come…)
My first full day in Leuven. Totally surrounded by people speaking an alien language with alien customs, including some kind of bizarre ritualistic square dance. Having fun but also quite bewildered; it’s actually a bit exhausting. Feels like I’m living an episode of Farscape.
Still getting myself situated here in Leuven. Found this discotheque down the street from the university’s international office. For all you Futurama and transhumanists out there in the “Schwartzosphere” haha!
Click on the photo to go to the discotheque’s website. Party like it’s 2999! }:-)
This tour of Den Haag’s commercialist doomship is for my good friend Todd Keyser. It’s an exquisite example of art nouveau or what the locals call jugendstil. In truth, I suspect it’s from slightly later (I’ll ask the folks at the municipal music what they know about it).
Warning: this is a big post.