Now that I have your attention with the Home Sex News title, here goes...
A GARBO’S GUIDE TO BITS OF EUROPE
This diary of my European trip is as I wrote it down, in the streets, hotels, hostels and restuarants. Whole sentences in Italics are after-thoughts on returning to Australia, usually to clarify sketchy, brief or drunken notes.
There are many thoughts that probably should not be here. They're sometimes silly and off-the-wall comments but to not include them would be dishonest. (I have, though, excluded a few that even I don't understand!). On my return a few people asked me what drugs I was on to write the emails I did. I didn't do any. I was high on the change of air and surrounded by the blood of twenty-year-olds, away from the dried-up, old cynics who are my normal social cohorts.
The bombing in Bali has just occurred as I write this and my experience in Europe with the Young Ones have made me feel quite empathetic. I normally regard death tolls as so many numbers that just fill newspaper columns. You have to keep your sanity sometimes.
Here I am.
I am 52 years old and for the last 15 years I have worked as a Garbo in Sydney, Australia.
I am divorced with two children - Michael, 15, and Jessica, 19.
I have never been overseas before.
Here I go.
SYDNEY TO PARIS 7.7.02 SUN to 8.7.02 MON
The twenty-three or four hour journey was uneventful. A good way to start an overseas trip, really. When we landed at Singapore there was light applause. Presumably a joke in that Singapore is the only place where Qantas has come close to ruining its safety record.
I like a drink but was advised against it. And good advice it was. I recommend the same.
My first close look at Europe was as our plane descended and I saw the patchwork-quilt
land below very reminiscent with the yellows, browns and oranges of a Van Gogh.
Going down the stairs at the Charles de Gaulle airport I see the train to the city centre and it's totally covered in graffiti. I turn to the person next to me and say that I thought our trains back home were bad. She looks at me as though I am speaking a foreign language. And then, of course, realized I had been. She chose another carriage to me and, presumably, some people she could understand.
When I got into Paris proper I got off at St.Michel (ND) where I discovered the ND stood for Notre Dame, an old film set for Charles Laughton that had the smelliest public toilet I NEVER WENT INTO. With my supreme sense of direction I immediately got lost and discovered parts of Paris I’ve never seen since. (Apparently, it is HARD to get your sense of direction when you emerge from a foreign metro, I later learned).
When I finally got UNLOST and found my hotel I also found my first European object of lust – a young receptionist, on her first day. She was goddam beautiful. Dark Latin looks. Perhaps she was more beautiful because she was a little lost. A damsel in distress always has THAT something extra! I tried to console her with the fact that it was my first day too. It was about 7am and I wasn’t booked in till about 11. They let me leave my backpack in a storage room there and I went a-walking.
That first day in Paris seemed like two (almost like the 10cc song). Did a lot of walking, in new shoes. (Had not even THOUGHT about how much walking I would be doing. Did the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triomphe, a roast beef croissant with chutney and partly-conquered the Paris Metro. At one point I stuffed up the day ticket I was using but a kindly, dark Parisian Metro employee let me through the turnstiles and, seeing that I was stressed, said to me " Welcome to Paris!" with a laugh.
And got blisters. More to come. Unfortunately.
Got up early to get over to the other side of town. Had a bad time on the Metro yesterday afternoon and thought that if I fucked up again I could always get a taxi. I successfully though got over to the Busabout pick-up point in Montmatre in the crowded peak time. I had been staying on the Left Bank off the Boulevard St. Michel. As you do.
Walking to the station that morning over the Pont de Neuf I discovered so much crap (bottles, take-away food packages) on it that it resembled the morning after a big night of celebrations in Sydney. Have to say I enjoyed Paris in the early morn much more than later in the day - the traffic is normally nothing short of Double Hectic.
At the pick-up point for Busabout I met Brandy, from Texas, and an Australian girl. I suppose I spoke to the Australian girl for less than hour before the bus took me and Brandy north to Amsterdam while hers took her to the south of France. Just about one of my shortest relationships on record.
( Not available for publication here).
Lille, France 9.7.02
We broke our journey to Amsterdam with a stop at Vimy Ridge, a Canadian war memorial and a preserved battlefield. The grass, however, has since grown over the bomb craters, some 6 to 10 metres deep. No one is allowed beyond the barriers except for some sheep to keep the grass down. We are told that, every once-in-a-while, they have a barbecue.
Brandy, a Texan high school teacher, learned of OTHERS participating in WW1 other than Gary Cooper and Charlie Chaplin. I astonished her further by letting her know that WE and others were there first. I further added to her knowledge of OTHER people by letting her know that Aussies were also involved in WW2 (with John Wayne), Korea (with Alan Alda), Vietnam (with John Wayne again) and Afghanistan (with George Clooney). Makes you wonder. Or is it obvious? Am I just optimistically obtuse, by choice?
When we get off the bus at Brugge for a quick stop I discover that I am NOT automatically booked for the rest of the sector to Amsterdam. Pissed off with Busabout who did not tell me I needed to confirm destination point, only departure.
If it's Tuesday
it must be Belgium.
Anita Eckberg and Bob Hope.
Any old movie buff
could tell you that.
But not being a fan
it's on to Amsterdam.
I've put down my book. The least
I can do is look out the window.
Brugge, Belgium 9.7.02
Always wanted to write poems with a foreign address attached. AND HERE THEY COME! (When I first had poems published in a mag called Poetry Australia there was some wanker having his shit published with overseas cities added at the bottom that SEEMED to have nothing to do with the ACTUAL poem. It pissed me off but made me a bit jealous. I can see me and Pretension becoming really good friends as long as she / he pays her / his half of the bills. Especially the overhead light.
Amsterdamage (as the Busabout Guide likes to refer it) is not a straight city, but not gay either. Everyone, like the promise of the 60s, seems to do their own thing. Some of this due, I'm told, to cultures absorbed after the collapse of the Dutch Empire and the resultant backflow.
Bikes, bikes, everywhere. And trams. There would be probably fewer cars in Ams that there would be in the average Sydney suburb.
I am writing this in a bar adjoining the hostel and I don't feel self-conscious as nearly every other mother seems to be keeping some sort of travel diary. Except the yobs.
Someone just rode a bike thru the bar - I think I was the only one who looked.
Haven't -done much today as my feet are one huge blister. They were fucked last night before I went to Red Light District with Derek the Kiwi who I sat next to on the bus getting here.
As I was about to walk into a live sex show I commented to Derek that I hadn't done this since my buck's night which was about 6 million beers ago. Young bouncer at the door heard me and said, " Yeah, I remember you". Yeah right.
( Not available for publication here)
Meet John and Laura. Manly siblings. She’s over here for a visit. He is a plumber, on leave from work as a barman in London. Had seen them on the bus and around Amsterdam and had thought they were a couple.
It's 9.25pm and still light.
A pre-litigious nail
sticks out of the bench
I'm drinking at.
How retro! How relaxed!
How marvellous! Recherche!
Signs everywhere deny
responsibility with care.
There are yobs everywhere I find (to my uneducated surprise). I see some girls walking along the streets who look like westies but when they go past they're speaking Dutch or German.
Just had a talk with Brandy (Dallas, Texas) and she's decided that the coffee shops and the Red Light district makes Ams not her kind of town - "It wasn't how I was brought up" she declares. She does declare!
Never mind that insular shit - they pour beers here with an overflowing 3-inch head and then level it off with a plastic scraper!
Hans Brinker Posters -
NOW A DOOR IN EVERY ROOM
EVEN MORE DOGSHIT IN THE FOYER
NOW EVEN LESS SERVICE!
Quite funny until you realize that the one about Service is true. And ALL over Europe!
First thing this morning went up to the Internet place to see about e-mails and booking next leg of journey. There are NO staff. It’s all done with machines and tokens for the computers. At one point when I had a problem I ended up consulting the cleaning lady, only human being in the place, beside the other punters, of course.
Blisters improved a bit. Did the Van Gogh Museum and the Heineken Experience this morning. Then went to the Anna Frank house in the afternoon with John and Laura.
After that, a Guinness on the terrace of an Irish pub in wonderful sunlight -- it's been mostly overcast but not cold.
Later that night went to the pub with Brandy and two young Oz guys. We managed to make her laugh her Texan tits off but by the end of the evening they seem to have been re-attached.
Rang somebody in Sydney, standing in the middle of a square surrounded by a host of
ambient alcoholics, just to express the joy of living. Poor bastard on the other end was just beginning work. Sorry Mr. Ellis!
Didn't get to bed till 2am talking to a New Zealander (who’d lost his accent working in London.) He recommended Turkey (Gallipoli et al), as do most people. Headed for Berlin. Still no accommodation booked. NZer was impressed that I knew the word Mouldy and not Maori. He said most Pakehah (whites) don't even bother.
Blisters again, still, whatever. Shouldn't really have gone out last night. Still, you're only old once. Should be right for accommodation. Might be out of central Berlin though.
The absence of unreadable
graffiti on old buildings
makes you wonder
and, as it should,
maybe a distaste for yonder
a distaste for returning home?
About an hour before when entered Berlin the Busabout Guide, Paul, went into a talk on the history of Germany – from just before the Unification of Germany to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. It was all very informative and something you don’t get on the train without doing a lot of reading. I found out later that the said guide was an ex-history teacher.
Just passed a detour to AUSFAHRT! Must ask Dieter what the F it means.
The moment we
crossed the border
I lost my sense
. Germany 12.7.02
And the Above turned out to be true. There was an overflow of about 9 people
who could not fit into the Busabout accom. We trekked individually to the rail
station Oespska (?) to Gesundbrunnen where we were SUPPOSEDLY booked
in. Their English and understanding of out situ was almost nil. Still ironed it
all out but at one point they had me and 4 babes booked into 1 room and a young
bloke called Dave was booked into a 4 bedder all by himself but management charging us all the same price. No one at Gesundbrunnen station could tells us where the
hotel was either. And it was only about 200 metres from the station
Much confusion, frustration, which is where I lost the humour.
(Spirits uplifted considerably after FINALLY BOOKING IN when I discovered an internet bar (alcohol & coffee) that had a huge schweinsnitzel for E4.oo (about AUS 7) with teeny appetizers to start and a coffee to finish. We got to know, and have fun with, our Spanish waitress. She was so bubbly she could have been a soft drink. She has almost completed her BA in Architecture but is staying in Berlin to improve her German. I asked her where she had learned her English, which was pretty good, and she replied " Ireland". It's a miracle she can speak at all!
I have never known such a friendly waitress but at one time
she couldn't serve us because she only had 5 menus but 4 Busabout girls were at
another table and we used theirs. We (Me, Dave, Simon and Louise) could only
hope that she had enough plates.
This adventure all happened in a very low-rent district in East Berlin.
Graffiti everywhere. Low lifes etcetera. Bums in the park. No place
So, I spend last night in Dave's room, which is only for one night as he
is booked in elsewhere for tomorrow night. WILL have to sleep with the 4 girls tonight. Menage a cinque? Backpacking can be murder! Just ask Ivan Milat.
Blisters forced me to stay at the Bla Bla where I was served a kaffe in a soup bowl. (I had asked for a large one.)
Spent about 3 hours (stunde) on an email (Approx 600bs) to no avail. Somehow lost the text like the Mail virgin I am. That's why you are now receiving this in bits
Watched the Love Parade on the Bla Bla big screen. Funny, most pubs do not even have a TAB or pokies or Keno advertising but they do have beer- a couple of hundred varieties. What a novel idea.
Have mastered the German language. So: Guten tag. Ein pils bitte. Danka schon. Auf wediersen.
After the bread and jam brekky at the Hans Brinker, the City Lights had muesli, oats, a kind of milk syrup, bread rolls, salami and ham. Almost like
a Holiday Inn this place. Not really backpacker. Huge fluffy European pillows.
Huge fluffy European women.
Bloke outside Bla Bla looked like Allawah Les. I even run into him this side of the world! Must tell him when (?) I return. The guy had black hair but resemblance remarkable.
East Berlin fashion. Wish I had a camera. No limits. No fashion. Clothes, sometimes, only an insane person would wear. Not so much fashion
victims as road accidents. Saw a couple of girls wearing shiny leather leggings
similar to the kind you see Lawn Mowing people wear to keep the shit out of
E- MAIL ADDRESS
Wherever I go
there I am
Wherever I am
there I go
The new addiction
is another fiction.
Gesundbrunnen, Berlin 13.7.02
Walking in Central Berlin to Checkpoint Charlie and what remains of The Pink Floyd over to the Reichstag and down past the Siegesaulle. About 3 or 4 ks. The city is under almost total reconstruction. Found out that 80% of all the cranes in Europe are in Berlin.
What makes this whole Culture Shock thing so interesting is that I am
reading Toffler's " Future Shock “ But, then again, sometimes the book seems itself
to be stating the obvious and outdated. Oncredible.
In East Berlin they only have a WOOLWORTH. Budget restraints
must have precluded the S.
Travelling on Ring 41/42 on the Metro rail the buildings are almost
Pure Graffiti. The whole ring very industrial. It is, in fact, an ugly work of art in itself.
Sitting at the Bla Bla last night I came over all un-Australian.
Berlin is not my kind of city except for the pils and lager. But I could live here with
A man gets on the Metro spruiking German. I, of course, do not understand a word he is saying. Figure is a homeless person selling the deutsch version of the Big Issue. Reminded me of the Piano Accordion players on the Paris Met.
EUROEM # 7
( Not available for publication here)
Saw Maria again today. She was excited to see me and wanted to know what I had been doing. If she were anyone else I'd say she was coming onto me, bigtime.
Walking down the 17 Juni saw a street worker about to toss a shopping trolley into the jaws of a bulldozer/crane whatsi. I gave him the thumbs up and hoped it wasn't rude as it is in some countries. Italy for eg.
Back to the A&O Backpackers with the early morning German commuters to catch up with the Busabout crowd. Went with Lisa and Simon (who I stayed with and NOT the 4 girls but more of that later) who I was able to show a quicker route on the Metro. Their way you had to change stations. We still took the wrong train, as did a local so we did feel too non-combatant.
Said goodbye to Maria, the all-designing multilingual waitress and she said that she would see me around and that she would be in Berlin for a while yet. Be still my aching liver.
Stopped off at Maccas just outside of Dresden. I was wearing my McDeath t/shirt and it proved once again to be a chick magnet, Michael & Jessica. And most of the European staff think it hilarious.
People who you wouldn't be able to talk to, for various reasons, in Sydney are within reach. I’ve been sitting next to beautiful blonde on the bus, Danielle from Chatswood. She's another Arts graduate majoring in Anthropology and maybe is going to go into Journalism. She'd already done a stint at The Sydney Morning Herald and we chatted about that for a while, me being a sometime contributor. She hadn't initially sat next to me. She had an equally gorgeous girlfriend who had sat next to me but had moved when another seat became vacant. Young things do this.
Two and half hours at the German-Czech border. Entering Prague, a lot of empty buildings. Some of the outer villages are postcard perfect.
The bus driver told us to remember to eat our greens because when the beer can be as cheap as 8 kroner ($0.50 AUS), apparently, you tend to forget.
Prague! What a shitfight! But, like every other city so far, they seem totally strange and disorienting when you first roll in. It has been a fairly long day and I had trek to the station wearing my backpacker to get some kroner. Danielle was gone and I knew no one else closer to leave my bag with Also had booked myself into another hostel but no one could tell me where it was and I didn't feel like trying the Metro this late in the afternoon.
After booking in had a few beers with Casey, the barman from Detroit (Motor City, MC 5 and the Stooges). He has a penchant for a 60's band called Love. Not big at all in Oz but biggish in the States. Lead singer/songwriter, Arthur Lee, had a thing for wrting songs about going to jail where he eventually landed for 10 or so years after discharging a firearm into the air and hitting the Three Strikes You're In clause, so popular with fascist societies.
16.7.02 TO EUROEM # 8
Have to eat more today. Only had a burger all day yesterday. Too much $A 1.30 beer. Been shitting liquid all over toilet & floor. Went to Mac's for breakfast. Had a McZorba for brekky and the manager wanted to buy my McDeath t-shirt.
At a building near The National Museum (Nadrazi Muzeum) there were soldiers with rifles and an Armoured Personnel. Was John Howard coming to Prague (Praha) and they heard about the excitement his speeches have engendered? Even the Parking Cops have weaponry. No Standing please!!!!!
Feel better this morning. Disorientated last night. New town thing.
Had to pay for toilet paper this morning at the Hlavni Nadrazi rail station this morning. Do Aussies appreciate their free dunny rolls in public places? I think not. Obviously not even thought about.
Should have bought an audio phone for the Muzeum as most of the info was in Czech. Still, a great place, just to look at. Makes the Sydney Museum look like an outback dunny.
My workmate/friend, Joe, would love this place. Cheap grog everywhere, available at libraries, petrol stations, hairdressing salons, etc.
Bloke in Wencelaus Square (a main shopping centre, currency changing, cinemas) wanted to exchange money in the middle of the street. I told him No No No and walked away. Not that streetwise but he could have grabbed my money once I got it out of my wallet.
Some of the shops don't open till 10am. Pretty laidback. But I think I noticed Posts Offices opened till 7pm. Must not like early rises.
Still feels new here but here is a comment on first 3 cities. After a few days they begin to feel like an old shoe. The trouble is every couple of days of travelling you need new shoes.
Had lunch at the Credo. It looked like trendy restaurant back home that I would shun a mile away. Had spinach fettuccine with salmon, lemon juice, blue vein cheese and mushrooms. Cost about $A 6. A waitress to faint for and a view of old time Prague to enjoy.
Jana Wendt is but a reasonable example of Czech beauty. They are, most of them, very beautiful. So many bouncing Czechs, so little cash. I feel like an osteopath in a minefield of cheekbones.
It began to rain after lunch and headed back to the hostel after first taking shelter in a shopping mall, refuge of the umbrella and coat-less. No awnings or underground shopping fantasies to escape to. Most boring little shopping facility I'd ever seen. Almost went to a food supermarket to kill time. I said rain but it was a real heavy downpour. Beginning of the flood?
If anything can go wrong when you're holidaying it will. Was that the law of Thomas Cook? So far - blisters, broken spectacles and diarrhoea. What more, Elsinore?
EUROEM # 8
She's a horny
in the Czech Republic
Sounds as though
her throat is full of love.
wishes it was.
And I wouldn't
mind the video.
EUROEM #8 TO EUROEM # 10
Ah, the cross-pollination. Was having a drink with a couple of Norweigian guys. Five minutes later I'm talking to a Finnish girl and we are soon joined by her girlfriend and their two French Canadian beaus.
Rang John Ellis to see how the garbage was going. Picking up, apparently.
Rang Jessica too to tell her to get her arse over here. She could get work easily in London. Michael too, when he's older.
Very few toilets where you don't have to pay unless your buy a beer, a mac or a cinema ticket. Paying through the nose and going out the.
mean that much
in a foreign tongue
did they ever?
EUROEM # 10
We're sitting, drinking,
laughing in the gutter
of a cobble-stone road
outside the hostel.
The policie drive past.
They keep going
and don't care.
Got better things to do
than hassle people for
having a good time.
Prague 16.7. 02
17.7.02 TO WINE GLASS
Stopped by policie near THAT building again. Must be bigger than John Howard. Could be an Alexander Downer hernia! Building modern, black and ominous. Or Omnivorous, the bureaucratic beast that consumes all others. I later read that this building was built by the Russians and was indeed designed to INTIMIDATE!
Had another look at the Navradzi Muzeum's art section. There are some pictures (CSSR 68 or POLSKA 70?) showing some trucks used in the invasion/uprising with the letters VB on the side. A casual glance would make you think we had finally got off our collective arses and invaded someone using beer delivery trucks.
Rang Carol to see whether she was in Sydney or Nimbin so I could send her a postcard but she wasn't there. Spoke to Jennifer (rari) and told her I was in Prague. And that my eyes were opening!
EUROEM # 11
(of the past)
( Not available for publication here)
Have decided to call EUROPES EUROEMS. Champagne may be served at the launch. BYOF.
EUROEM # 12
( Not available for publication here)
Noticed at a moneychanger the Euro is stronger than the US dollar.
Situated next door was the Casino Happy Day. Must have been an Asian consultant. In the window were 3 big plastic tubes in which money whirled around sporadically. Tried to turn it into a poem but have written too much already. I'm not Charlie Dickens. Tired. Must drink beer. Can't go on.
But I do. Leaving the Posta I thought I knew where the Credo was, but I didn't. Found it somehow anyway. Today, it's Tortellini stuffed with beef in a piquante tomato sauce, home made olive bread and a dark, malty beer - served in a wineglass.
Avoided the Credo at lunchtime as the service is a bit slower in Europe and didn’t want to be there in peakhour. You'd have to wait heaps. Dined about 3pm. Someone at that restaurace likes Chicago style blues. Seems to pretty popular all over town. And jazz clubs.
Outside the Credo
where I'm dining
it's four o'clock
a steeple bell rings
the old country!
Overheard the big Czech receptionist to a backpacker: You can't relax. You should always be horny. Like ME! She's quite funny in an over-bearing way.
Lissa, the Arena bargirl from Arkansas, tells me she likes to go to theatrical auditions even though she doesn't want to act. Mostly, she gets drunk the night before and never feels like going. And so, she doesn’t! This makes her feel artistic. Living here in Prague with all the other artists who could be good if they tried. I told her she was full of shit and she readily agreed.
Her party trick at the bar is this: When she cracks a bottle of beer (no screw tops) and the froth flows over the lip of the bottle she says to the customer " Congratulations! It's a boy!” But only to the males. Most of the gells don't think it's funny, she says. I tell her she should use it on the Australian girls. They’d love it.
Been a big night. Drank about 10 pints and topped it off with a plum brandy. Goodnight Vienna, wherever you are.
There are refugees here all over the place. Mostly from the States. A lot of people come here for a few days but stay. Greg, a bleach-blonde Negro, has been here for 5 years. He works at the hostel and is a part-time male model. After I make a couple of Garyisms he keeps saying, " Who is this guy?”
Lissa’s also overstayed her stay. She’s a cute, little, mousy-brown, shorthaired girl. Arkansas is my NEW state of mind.
Lissa (Snack Bar Girl
at the Hostel Arena
knows that if
she really tried
she could achieve
nothing at all
simply to be an
artist is enough
I'm may be in love
with this girl
but she'll have to
join the queue.