Friday, August 31, 2007

We Ain't Got No Swing

Just a few snippets from the trip to London...

* After the first few days of rain, the weather became incredible -- 75 and sunny, with air that felt fresh and clean (particularly in comparison to Atlanta). One minor moment on the trip, but one that will be treasured like the Patrick Leigh Fermor read of a previous visit -- waking up, getting coffee and a copy of the Guardian, and sitting under a tree in Kensington Gardens to read and relax. For someone who doesn't let himself relax much, that was a nice interlude.

* Between visits, I forget just how much I love the London pub culture. I don't see anything comparable in the States -- sitting outside some little place, drinking beer and talking, as a variety of interesting and/or weird people drop by and join in, later replaced by someone else interesting/odd. As much as I like some of the bars near my place, they're home to decrepit drunks during the day and frat guys at night -- there's precious few witty intelligent types like, uh, me.

* During the trip, my friend Susanne arrived to begin her new life in London. I realize that I'm rapidly reaching a sort of sad tipping point, where more of my friends live in London than here.

* Encounter with weirdos dept.: I'm watching a little Nike promo/soccer demonstration in Leicester Square, when rheumy-eyed old English guy stumbles up next to me. "They never work," he mumbles to me. "Wha?" I respond, uncomprehending. "Them," he spits, gesturing at the players -- who, I note with a sinking feeling, are all black. "They just play. They should be on a building site. They all make the women do the real work."

I don't say anything, hoping he'll go away -- "do you speak English?" he asks. "Where are you from?" Looking for ways to extricate myself, I say "America."

"I went to New York once. Left my hotel, bunch of blacks started following me. But then some undercover cops jumped on them and beat the shit outta them!" It was the only time I saw him express anything approaching joy during this whole exchange.

I left, him shouting/mumbling "they oughta be doing REAL WORK!" as I wished myself far, far away.

* Fidel's birthday was part of the festivities during the trip. After a posh dinner, marathon drinking session, and me deciding to walk from Soho to St. John's Wood at 3 a.m. (a plan that was aborted), I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache and the following message scrawled on my notebook:



Forever a puzzle, most likely.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back in the Sauna

Got back to Atlanta yesterday, and I was pouring sweat at 6 a.m. today. Fantastic.

Obviously, the social whirl was busy in London, so the updates were scarce. I'll write more and post more photos today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, a quick roundup of the books I read on the trip:

#35 -- "The Fourth Bear" by Jasper Fforde

#36 -- "Words of Mercury" by Patrick Leigh Fermor

#37 -- "Chronicle of Stone" by Ismail Kadare

The Fforde book isn't normally my style, but I was looking for something quick for the plane ride over, and it caught my eye. Glad it did. It's a mystery set in a part of England where nursery rhyme characters collide with real life, and it's funny as hell. Lots of sly humor and clever references -- I laughed out loud quite a bit. I'll pick up some of his other books, which similarly seemed aimed at constant readers.

Everyone's probably sick of hearing about Fermor ... sorry! I don't think this anthology is available in the U.S., so of course I had to get it. It's selections from his work over the years, and I've read a lot of it before (especially in "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water"), but it's no great pain to read that again. Lively stuff from a guy who apparently knows everything and enjoys the hell out of life.

Likewise, I'm pretty sure the Kadare book isn't in print over here (edit -- will be soon). It's an early book, and much more linear than most of his later work. It's the (semi-autobiographical?) story of his hometown of Gjirokaster, which went back and forth between the Axis and Allies during World War II, and then became the scene of bitter internecene warfare between various Albanian factions. It's very good, and quickly became one of my favorites by Kadare. Highly recommended as a starting point.

More later. Now, I have to work on getting my body clock in order.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Rainy Night in Soho

This is what you get when you bitch too much about the heat in Atlanta: three straight days of rain and 60-degree temperatures in London. I can't remember the last time (if ever) that I've had to wear a jacket in August.

At least, though, it's something different to complain about, and today the rain has stopped and the temperatures are warmer; I even saw the sun briefly this morning.

I've spent a lot of time on Charing Cross Road, home to a whole bunch of great bookstores (and legendary for the now-long gone store at 84 CC). One of them, Henry Pordes Books, is the scene of a pleasant book memory -- in the basement, two years ago, I found Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time of Gifts," at the time unavailable (and impossible to find used) in the U.S.

Having heard of it, I got it, and then went and sat in a park near the British Museum (a sunny day, then) and immediately became enraptured. Sitting under a tree, alternately reading and daydreaming, suddenly anything seemed possible.

I also got Colin Thubron's "Journey Into Cyprus" that day, introducing me to that worthy author. I don't expect such a harvest of fine quality again, but I picked up a few books at Henry Pordes yesterday, just out of appreciation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bon Voyage

I leave for London tonight. It's still disgustingly hot in Atlanta, we broke the "Target: Force" video game at Manuel's last night, Sidearm Delivery has shut down, Tomas Kloucek is still unemployed -- with all these negative signs and portents, it's time to leave Atlanta for a bit.

Not sure what blogging will be like while I'm over there -- it could be really light as social pursuits distract me, could be really heavy as I wait for friends to get out of work. We'll see.

In the meantime, I drove up to Cartersville, Georgia the other day. I'd been through Cartersville a few times previously, but always wrote it off as a collection of strip malls and mega-grocery stores. Tipped off that it's actually kind of an interesting place if you get off the main highways, this time I explored a bit, and whaddaya know -- lots of cool old buildings and a nice, pleasant downtown area. There's a lesson here.

This is the first-ever outdoor Coca-Cola sign. I think it's safe to say it's been repainted a few times over the years.

One of several old railroad buildings (that seemed to still be in use, despite the abandoned feel).

Cool old theater, circa 1940 if I remember the plaque correctly. Still in use, by a theater troupe.

Nice old building (from 1881, I think - can't really read the detail now). Kind of reminds me of downtown Boulder; you don't see many like this in Atlanta. It apparently housed a brewery until recently. The fact that a brewery went out of business makes me so very sad.

Dunno why this caught my eye. Maybe that very firm, forceful, big sign combined with the lack of a roof.

Ghost sign! No clue what it says, though.

Another really cool theater. I would have gone up and scouted about for interesting details, but by this point I was coated in sweat. Unpleasant.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Skag Heaven

Been a little quiet around here lately, but now I'm on vacation. And good and drunk -- assists to white wine and an "Arrested Development" DVD.

Started writing something, haven't finished. In the meantime -- bad squirrels (read down a bit). Link via Our Man in Tirana.

Two and a half weeks off of work, one and a half of those in London, so it's all downhill from here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Atlanta Falcons: Causing More Problems

Keeping on a theme -- if you would, gentle reader, speak aloud the team name up there in the title.

Done? Ok, thanks.

For my entire life, I pronounced the word "fahl-cons." Last year, in a bar, I said that -- and it was greeted with peals of laughter and calls for me to say it again. Apparently, everyone else says it "faal-cons." (for a better approximation, go here and press the pronunciation links: Merriam-Webster says both are ok, though faal-cons seems preferred.)

Since then, it's been a mild obsession of mine, conducting unofficial surveys of how people say it and where they're from. My parents, who presumably taught me how to speak, say it "faal." In fact, the only people I've found that agree with me are as follows: the Elk (raised in Minnesota), Fidel (raised in London), and my little brother (raised in Colorado).

I've also been told that "fahl" might be acceptable if you're being some hoity-toity snob and discussing things like "Falcon Crest," but it's not acceptable for the Atlanta Faal-cons.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dangerous Inattention to Reality

I've been a football fan for, oh, let's say 30 years or so. I've lived in Atlanta for nearly eight years. And just this past week, I finally realized: the falcon that's (with some variation) adorned the Atlanta Falcons' helmets since they entered the league in the 1960s -- is actually a stylized "F" (for falcon, one hopes).

Next week: Greg learns what the "NY" on the Yankees' caps means.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hot August Nights

You may be sick of hearing over and over how hot it is down here, but it's an accurate representation of life: every conversation now begins that way, with a discussion of the heat and liberal use of obscenities, before we begin drinking ourselves insensate. It's too hot to do anything, still. I actually got up early and drove out to Gwinnett County, hoping to shoot some photos, but I'm not into subdivisions or strip malls and came back with nothing. (above pic is from Boulder, which is undoubtedly cooler than Atlanta right now.)

I'm going a bit stir crazy -- I'm trying not to spend money, and (have I mentioned?) it's really too hot to be outside between morning and night. Most public enclosed places either expect you to spend money, or are boring (I'm not gonna go hang around the county government offices), so I'm trying to find new things to do in my (small) condo. And running out, really. The more time I spend here, the worse my attention span becomes, so reading, watching movies... those only work for a bit. Washing the dishes and doing laundry aren't that much fun. I dug out some computer games that I hadn't played in years, only to confirm that I'm still really bad.

I note that a thunderstorm is considered "possible" tomorrow. God I hope so.

Anyway, not much point to this post. Just killing time.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I'll Take Indie Cred Wherever I Can Find It

Just in the interest of getting the previous post bumped down, an anecdote...

I got my hair cut yesterday, even with a hangover that you could (in the words of Bill Bryson) sell to silence science. Yeah, I'll take that Purple Heart. Next to me, a woman was getting her hair worked on by a male stylist, who seemed to be working the seduction angle (and he was good at it -- by the time the woman left, she was all but throwing her underwear at the guy).

At one point, she asked him where he got his hair cut, and the guy replied (paraphrased -- I wasn't taking notes) "I go to Shanghai once a year -- there's this guy there who's the only person I trust."

Now, he didn't seem to be joking, though it was obvious bullshit. That's a new level of hipster oneupmanship. Is the barber in Shanghai the hair stylist's version of obscure Finnish noise bands?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

So

Hey there, Post-Pessimist Association readers (all six of you). I'm drunk.

Not really an unexpected occurrence around here, but tonight, I honestly expected to be in bed and responsible by midnight. That did not happen.

What did happen, about the time I saw some guy do a karaoke version of Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone" as I drank my third vodka tonic (cutting back on beer!), is that I found myself thinking of the weird associations I have with nations.

Yeah, nations. Not nations I think about for most of my life (Czech Rep., Albania). Not nations too big to ignore.

But ... those other nations. The countries that are there, but don't intrude on my daily life.

For instance: when I think of the Netherlands, I think of wooden shoes, hookers, Janwillem van de Wetering, Grolsch, and Golden Earring. (not necessarily in that order.)

When I think of Belgium, I think of chocolates and beer.

When I think of Denmark, I think of my friend Susanne, and Gammel Dansk (this amazing drink that tastes awful, but prevents hangovers the next day, and in fact I should do a shot)

When I think of Poland, I think of Ryszard Kapuscinski, Gabriel Samolej (former Polish goalie), kielbasa, and Czeslaw Milosz.

When I think of Sweden, I think of Entombed and Peter Forsberg and the original (good) version of "Insomnia."

When I think of Canada, I think of long-haired guys with receding hairlines singing Rush songs.

When I think of America, I think of "Torque" and Quiet Riot.

And on that note, good night. Thanks Fidel.

Monday, August 06, 2007

People Keep Calling Me Five Alive

Brushback tagged me for the favorite five songs thing that's going around -- probably in the hopes that I'd just list off five No For An Answer songs. Unfortunately "You Laugh" has six songs and I can't decide which to leave out, so I'll look elsewhere.

This is just about an impossible task -- I've decided on some really half-formed criteria, basically that it has to be a song that I'm pretty confident has staying power (i.e. I'll probably still be listening to it in a decade), and it has to be one of the limited subset of musical creations that I'll punch up two or three times in a row on a jukebox or car stereo or whatnot.

Anyway, in no particular order:

Wilco "Dreamer in My Dreams" -- I was slow to get into Wilco, partly because I came into them through Uncle Tupelo and always preferred Farrar to Tweedy (still do -- though I'd take Wilco over Son Volt. Go figure.), partly because the first album I heard was "Being There" and it was kind of a sprawling mess, something that would have been fine at 3/4 the length. My attention span wasn't great in those days, either. This became for me what "Passenger Side" was for a lot of other people -- the song I just couldn't hear enough, the song no live set was complete without.

Neil Young "Barstool Blues" -- from these first two, I'm obviously a sucker for the wistful lamentations of the sad old guy at the end of the bar, as long as it's put in song form. I'm far from being the most committed NY fan. For most of his stuff, I've gotta be in the right mood. This, though? Play it 30 times in a row. Especially if I'm drinkin'.

Cavity "Sweat and Swagger" -- switching the pace here. I've been kicking around a post on Cavity for a while now, so I won't go off on too much of a tangent here. Suffice to say that swampy fucked-up Cavity is one of the only enduring bands from my mid-late '90s listening, and this song isn't just them at their finest, but an entire genre at its finest. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But it's a pretty kick-ass song.

Drive Like Jehu "New Math" -- God, I remember when "Yank Crime" came out, and I spent a summer listening to nothing else, playing it as loud as possible as I careened around the highways of Boulder County. Remarkably, more than a decade later it still has the same effect on me. I'm playing "New Math" right now (that's right -- first-hand research) and it's got me ready to go run around and crash into walls and dumpsters. The high-water mark for a pretty productive partnership.

Pixies "Head On" -- a tough final choice, beating out sentiment (Minor Threat's "Salad Days") and art (Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray"). Captures better than anything I can imagine the half-crazed yearning of love. Why does this beat the hell out of the original (by Jesus and Mary Chain), which isn't that much different? Maybe because Frank Black sounds crazy while J&MC guy just sounds bored, maybe it's a bit more urgent. I dunno.

Man, that was tough. And so many good things left off. I'll spread the pain now -- I dunno who's been tagged, but if they haven't got it yet, I'll do Alanah, Tapeleg, and Nanuk. Oh, and Vaic Fan, if only to get him posting again.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Dreaming of a Deep Freeze

October is only two months away (really!), the month when Atlanta becomes a temperate paradise and I renew my annual tradition of deluding myself into thinking it's always 68 degrees here. Right now, though, I'm deep in my annual tradition of bitching about the weather at every opportunity (a tradition that leads to much-derided post titles like this). It was too unpleasant to sit on a shaded patio yesterday (though a revelation: Hand in Hand's chili wings are great, perhaps the first time I've ever said anything good about the food at one of the Derek Lawford Pubs). It was too hot to sleep last night, even with the air conditioner going at a strain-the-power-grid level. It sucks.

I'm occupying myself with cold thoughts -- Russian literature, imagining the Ice Hotel, photos of Iceland, hockey fight videos. And I'm reminding myself that this will end, eventually.

And of course, I'm going to London (two weeks from tomorrow, and if you think I won't be mentioning it daily here until then, you haven't been reading this for very long). I'm sort of afraid to look at the weather, for fear of learning that London is going through some sort of record-breaking heat wave.

Ahead of the trip, I'm cutting back on my bad behaviors for a bit -- partly to save money so that I can afford to eat while over there, partly because presumably drinking a lot less will give me more time to be productive. In the pursuit of that goal, I'm also trying to reduce internet usage -- I have a bad habit of lying on the couch and cycling through a few pages (usually Sidearm Delivery, Covered in Oil, Canucks and Beyond, All My Little Words, Tony Karon, the Comics Curmudgeon), then checking TSN to see if poor Tomas Kloucek has a deal yet, then resume the cycle.

Making it worse, I've recently been introduced to Facebook, and if that site isn't the subject of alarmed studies about addiction yet, it should be. I already felt like a dork about my MySpace page (sorry, but it's the only way to prove I'm pals with Vaic Fan), but now that I'm checking my Facebook page hourly, I feel even worse. And there's no way to pretend that there's anything remotely productive associated with this.

* * *

I actually bought the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the first time in years yesterday, drawn in by a cover story on Atlanta's worst bridges. It was a mixture of concern after last week's Minneapolis disaster (that night, I realized just how many bridges/overpasses I drive on, and just how heavily patched they are) and thinking that I may get some tips on cool photo opportunities.

The whole thing is a bit ominous -- I would presume (perhaps wrongly, but I doubt it) that Minneapolis's infrastructure is considerably better than Atlanta's, and the latter's viaduct system means you can barely go a mile without going over or under some sort of bridge. I don't think I've ever been on any of the mentioned bridges -- I'd presume, though, that there's a ton that just narrowly missed the cut for that article. Hooray!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bah.

A pisser of a week, and I originally contemplated a detailed post on everything that irritates me right now -- idiots in bars, humidity, property taxes, etc. But I'll pass.

I go to London in just over two weeks, which should be a proper balm (although I'm told that at present exchange rates, they use US $20 bills as toilet paper).

In the meantime:

#33 -- "The Life of Graham Greene, vol. 2" by Norman Sherry

#34 -- "Agamemnon's Daughter" by Ismail Kadare

It's been a year and a half since I read volume one of the Sherry trilogy. I don't read a ton of biographies any more, but this one's of one of the few people I could legitimately call a hero, and covers perhaps the most interesting years of his life. Within this volume alone, GG is a best-selling author, a spy, bothered by the McCarthy-era U.S. government, a playwright, and carrying on a marriage and multiple romantic liaisons. Meanwhile, if anyone ever does a biography of me, the "Atlanta years" volume will consist of: drank a lot, watched hockey, started a blog. Kind of humbling.

The Kadare book is a novella and two short stories. The first two pieces -- the title story and "The Blinding Order" -- rank near the tippy-top of his work. I've rarely seen the humor in Kadare that others find, but in both cases I see it here. They also, perhaps not coincidentally, rank as two of his strongest condemnations of the former Albanian regime. The last piece is the only one written post-Communism, and is the weakest one here. That means something, but I'm too lazy to contemplate what.