I’m Getting Married, So A Man Without A Country is Over

I’m ending A Man Without A Country. I was going to make a big deal out of this – try and make you think that I was ending the blog entirely, try and make it seem like I was retiring from the internet, like it was time to sell out and become a banker – but then it occurred to me that relatively few people would actually care if I did that, and if my cancellation news wasn’t met with cries of despair and outrage, I would probably be pretty depressed.

So I’ll be clearer: I’m just changing the name of the site. There are an infinite number of reasons for this, but only one of them really matters. So naturally, I’m going to give you all of the reasons that don’t matter first.

I started using “A Man Without A Country” when I started using Tumblr around 5 years ago. I shamelessly stole it from Kurt Vonnegut, who used it for one of his last books. While it has a jazzy ring to it, and while it thrilled me a little bit to pretend that Kurt Vonnegut may have liked my blog if he was the type of guy who would spend lots of time Googling himself while also being dead, it wasn’t a very practical choice: no one searching for “A Man Without A Country” finds my site unless they click through a few search pages.

So there was that. But that was always a problem, and I was always too lazy to come up with an original blog title to care.

The other reason that doesn’t matter is that it was originally a title for my travel-centric blog. I’m not really traveling as much anymore, and also, I’m working for the Matador Network as a staff writer. Since they pay me to write about travel, and I am a significantly less generous editor to my site’s writers, I haven’t been writing much about travel on my own blog lately.

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Me and Steph

The reason that does matter is this: Steph and I got engaged last week.

For followers of my blog who aren’t my Mom, Steph is my girlfriend (fiancee!). I’ve been dating her for two years, and I haven’t written about our relationship all that much on my blog because I am a firm believer in two things: first, that the internet is not a place for happiness – happiness belongs in the real world – and second, that people who write about how happy they are are boring writers.

Also, I’m pretty sure she’d hate it if I wrote about us. Us is our thing, not the internet’s.

The reason this is a reason against AMWAC is that AMWAC is that AMWAC is a product of my twenties. I’ve felt like I’ve been wandering and generally lost for the past decade. I haven’t been sure where I want to go, what I want to do, or what I wanted my life to look like. And this is probably a good thing in your twenties: I learned a lot about myself and I’ve been to a lot of places. But at some point, drifting around stops making much sense. At some point, you want a home and a community and a country. At some point, being a wanderer isn’t as much of a thing to brag about.

With Steph, I’m not as interested in drifting around anymore. I’ve spent the last three days in Las Vegas on a press trip for Matador (which I’ll be writing about in detail very soon). I left 3 days after my engagement. It’s been rough. I’m homesick for the first time in years.

By choosing the name A Man Without A Country, it felt like I was refusing to be a part of anything that I had a problem with: whether that was countries, professions, ideologies, or cultures. But when you put down an anchor – just one! – you have to stop thinking about sailing to the next destination, and you start thinking about what you can do in the place you’ve arrived at.

So a new era calls for a new blog title. I’m not sure what it’ll be yet, but it’ll be coming soon. In the meantime, the travel section will still be called A Man Without A Country, but it won’t be updated all that much: you can go to Matador for my travel writings. I’ll post them on our Facebook page. I’m probably going to write about our wedding a little bit, but I promise I won’t let it be about happiness. I don’t want to bore you, and that’s reserved for the two of us anyway.

The Customs Lines to Get into Mars Are Gonna be the Worst

I’ve recently been reading Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot, which is basically about the prospects of humans traveling out into space and colonizing the solar system. It’s also where he first wrote his incredible “pale blue dot” monologue, which I’ve posted like, a billion times before.

Unfortunately, I finished the book while standing in the immigration and customs lines at Dulles Airport. My flight had been delayed, and Icelandair had refused to serve us any free food during our 10 hours of travel, so I had at this point been running on a candy bar and two glasses of orange juice for 15 hours. Also, I had eaten at London’s Brick Lane the night before, which is the home of many famous, cheap Indian restaurants, all of which have a very unpleasant way of reminding you, “Hey, you ate spicy food last night!”

So I was grumpy, and I was not as receptive to Sagan’s dreams of humans spreading out across the universe as I may have been otherwise. All of his childlike wonder about the universe, his optimism and awe felt at our incredible technological advances could not be quite as acutely felt sitting in Icelandair’s economy section. I am not quite on board with Louis CK’s “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” sentiment about airplanes.

Because you know what? Fuck airplanes. We took something that man has aspired to since the dawn of time – to fly through the sky like the birds – and through the joint powers of bureaucracy and corporate profit-grubbing have turned it into a horrendous experience. How is it we can design machines that can reach the outer edges of our solar system, that can allow us to speak to our families face-to-face even though we’re thousands of miles away, and that can tear apart the smallest particles in the universe, but we can’t design airplane seats that can comfortably fit a normal human being?

I know that I’m taller than average, but seriously, I was on airplanes in the late 80’s/early 90’s, and they haven’t changed at all. Meanwhile, my computer has gone from sprawling across my desktop to sitting in my pocket.

And while I realize that giving airline seats a sleep number may not be the highest technological priority, it’s incredible what we do use our technology for. We’re apparently willing to use anti-gravity technology to get a look at what Kate Upton’s boobs look like in zero-g, and we’re willing to use robots as fucking vacuum cleaners, but we’re not willing to spend on less excruciating forms of travel?

And I’m generally in favor of living in a world with a larger public sphere, but bureaucracy is the worst. It sucks the fun out of everything. Including soaring through the sky. Security lines are basically inexplicable anymore. Your x-ray machine sees through everything, sir, why do you need me to take my laptop out? And seriously? I need to take off my shoes still because a guy 10 years ago tried to put a bomb in his shoe? Another bomber – more recently, even! – smuggled a bomb into a Saudi mansion up his ass. Bombs can be hidden literally anywhere. You’re just being arbitrary and stupid now.

And as for airlines, they are fundamentally unprofitable businesses. So let’s stop pretending that by charging me for a Biscoff cracker that you’re eking your way into the black. Let’s chalk this up to being a necessary public service and try and make it as painless as possible.

So no, Mr. Sagan, I don’t want to fly into space. Because where we go, our stupidity and greed goes as well. And though it may be beautiful to watch the sun rise over Mercury, or to view the rings of Saturn from Iapetus, I can think of nothing worse than standing in the atrium of the Mars interplanetary spaceport after a two-year flight of having been served only overpriced peanuts and coffee and waiting for some shitty Martian bureaucrat to stamp my passport.

Battleblog: Is New Jersey the Worst State in America?

Frequently referred to as the “armpit of America,” New Jersey is possibly the least-liked state in the Union. It’s not helped by pop culture (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire)or its shitty politicians (Chris Christie, those mayors that were selling kidneys on the black market). Here to duke it out over the Garden State are Amanda Patterson of Amanda Elsewhere and Matt Hershberger of A Man Without A Country:

AP: Hi Matt. Maybe we should talk about why we’re here. Last week on Twitter, you took offense to my taking offense that any part of America would be shocked by the idea that Chris Christie actually did know about those bridge lane closures (because, c’mon, fucking duh) and then I said that New Jersey is the worst (which, if you know me, is a pretty established stance <I woke up this way>). But I think it’s pretty established that New Jersey ranks 50 out of 50, dating back to forever and not even Bruce Springsteen can change that true fact.

MH: Hey Amanda! Okay, to be fair, Chris Christie is a douche, and the idea he didn’t know was a bit of a stretch. That said, it’s become incredibly fashionable to shit on New Jersey, and it’s undeserved. I’ve got a theory that as soon as the show How I Met Your Mother does something, it’s passe and needs to end. They did it with the words “epic” and “legendary,” they did it with bro culture, they did it with laugh-track sitcoms, and they did it to New Jersey haters. And seriously, go to a Springsteen concert and tell me it doesn’t fix everything wrong with the world.

AP: If it’s fashionable to hate New Jersey, then it’s fashionable in the way that denim jeans are fashionable. My sympathies to Ted Mosby. I dated a guy who lived (lives) in New Jersey and it was a deal-breaker before the first traffic circle. Did you know they charge you $0 to cross the bridge into New Jersey but charge you $5 to come back into Pennsylvania? I basically had to pay the equivalent of a Starbucks latte for the privilege to be back in Philadelphia. Are you aware of how sad that sentence is? I was so traumatized dating him that when I saw a bum peeing on a Wawa the last time I got back into Philly, I thought, “My people!” You know, try as they might – those bridge toll angels – it doesn’t even stop them from coming here on Friday nights in fleets. Fleets! You can always tell who they are, too, speaking of fashion.

MH: Being in Philadelphia for free is traumatizing, god knows how awful it must be to have to pay to be there. And of course you can tell who they are. They don’t reek of cheesesteak and stale Yuengling. Seriously, though, I’ll give you that there are some crappy spots in Jersey, and that you happen to be quite close to two of the worst: Camden and Trenton. That said, there are crappy spots in every state (I wouldn’t want my native Ohio to be judged by Akron), and Jersey has some awesome spots, too: the Shore is awesome, and Jersey City and Hoboken are a lot of fun. And as for that Jersey Shore stereotype? Yeah, 6 of the 8 of them were from New York. So let’s give credit where it’s due: A lot of things people say suck about New Jersey are equally true of New York, and no one shits on them. Also, not everyone in New Jersey is an Italian gangster or greaseball. Some of them are Irish.

AP: I knew you were going to turn that bridge toll thing back on me! Listen, listing things that suck about other places doesn’t prove that another place doesn’t suck. Besides, as “awesome” as the Shore is, the fact remains that they still make you pay ($$!) to sit on the beach. Nowhere else does that. Getting to the beach, sorry,shore, is a terrifying nightmare of being an out-of-state minority in a sea of lime-yellow Jersey plates. Spotting one of them driving around on your turf (turf being defined as any state that actually administers tests before issuing driver’s licenses) is frightening enough, but traveling 75mph surrounded by them is exactly the difference between encountering a lion at the zoo, and encountering a lion in Africa.

MH: Tons of other places make you pay to be on the beach. You can also just chill on the boardwalk and drink and eat ice cream. Oh, horrors! And the horrible driver thing extends along the whole East Coast though. New Yorkers are awful, Pennsylvanians are awful, Virginians are awful, Marylandians (?) are awful. But New Jersey is the only place where the horrible drivers are being rolled into this anti-Jersey confirmation bias. Let’s play a game! Every time you’re about to say “New Jersian” insert “black people” in there instead. Does it sound a little prejudiced and wrong? Then maybe it’s state racism, Amanda. Stacism!

AP: Is it Stacism if it’s true? The whole reason Chris Christie even got elevated to that weird kind of political cult hero status in the first place is because he called out New Jersey for being “stupid” (not evacuating during Sandy/putting rescue workers at risk). Matt, I think your problem is that you grew up in Ohio, and took it for granted that Pennsylvania was your buffer. You don’t know what it’s like, until you know. According to Bruce, It’s a death trap. It’s suicide rap.

MH: Let’s talk about Sandy, actually: I went to Point Pleasant, my girlfriend’s hometown (YES I HAVE A HIDDEN AGENDA, SO WHAT?) a couple days after the storm hit. Obviously, it was a mess, and to this day it still hasn’t fully recovered, but all the people were helping their neighbors clean their places, they were all volunteering, and they were incredibly gracious and friendly. So despite the stereotype I constantly hear about New Jersians, I’ve met far more kind, friendly, and warm people in Jersey than I’ve met douchebags or guidos. And even if Springsteen wrote the anthem about leaving his home state, now that he’s rich as fuck, guess where he lives? Freehold, New Jersey. BRUUUUUCE!

AP: Freehold is as much of a contradiction as Point Pleasant. Sigh, New Jersey. Well, it’s been a great debate, Matt. I suppose I’ll get a lot of shit for my anti-Jersey stance, but if there’s anyone who can put up a good Jersey defense, it’s a New Jersey native, because talking about and being part of New Jersey is so crucial to their existence. Come at me bro. (yeah, yeah I KNOW. NOT A NEW JERSEY NATIVE. I don’t care.)

Despite her unfortunate stacism, Amanda has an awesome travel blog over at Amanda Elsewhere which you go check out/follow religiously.

Teaching My Passport Tricks

Hello, AMWACers!  So I decided to take last week off, as it was bookended by road trips, and filled in between with a nasty cold.  In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out where I want to go with the blog, and whether I want to change the format a bit.  It’s not going anywhere, but things are a bit in flux, so thanks for the patience.

A few weeks back, I wrote about how I was sending away my most prized possession, my passport, to be renewed.  I’ve heard from some people that they sent an old passport away and it never returned, and then I heard from others that it came back in the same envelope as the new one.  I crossed my fingers and sent it away, and then, about two weeks later, got a shiny, white, Priority Mail envelope with my new passport in it.  The old one was not inside.

I went home and grumbled about it to Steph, who was as sympathetic as you can be to someone who’s depressed about losing an expired government document.  I brought it up after a few drinks at every bar I went to for a couple of weeks, and then, last Thursday, a coworker dropped off a battered manila envelope on my desk.  It was bent and grimy and looked like it had been ran over by a semi-truck.  Inside was my old passport.

None of this is particularly notable except this:  After years of traveling with me, that passport learned how I like to move around.  Slowly, cheaply, and uncomfortably.  I taught an inanimate object how to travel.  Chalk that one onto the resume.

Prized Possessions

The right butt pocket of my bluejeans has something in it for the first time ever.  Butt pockets are the most pickpocket prone, as an experienced pickpocketing victim such as myself knows.  But I figure not too many people are going to be touching my back pocket in DC, because why do the ol’ nab ‘n’ grab when you can do the ol’ stab ‘n’ grab instead?  DC petty criminals, sadly, lack the charming shyness of, say, Czech or British petty criminals. I have never personally been stabbed, but I’ve heard it’s the worst, and the thing filling my back pocket is known as being

My right butt pocket is filled with my passport.  I say “filled,” because my butt is fat, so putting virtually anything into my right butt pocket would fill it.  Like a stick of gum, or a fistful of dollars, or my single most prized possession, like my passport.  Federal law dictates that I have to mail in my expired passport in order to get a new one.  They will, I’ve been assured, mail it back to me so I can hold onto it as a keepsake, but I don’t trust them.  Last I heard, two out of three Americans don’t hold passports, so it’s at least probable that the bureaucrat who handles my passport will not hold one herself, or, if she does, she will likely only have used it to go on a weekend bender to Tijuana or Montreal.  I imagine her passport being empty and clean.  Mine is not.

  • My passport has 72 stamps in it, with 7 full-page visas.
  • The cover has bits of sticker residue from where airline check-in clerks slapped baggage tracking stickers, and the threaded edges are fraying.
  • I had to order extra pages, but between when I first got the passport and when I ordered the extra pages, they changed the design.  So in the middle of the passport, there’s a clump of slightly smaller, more colorful pages, numbered alphabetically instead of numerically, with the older, blue pages folding in around their edges.
  • Inside, there are splotchy spots, from when I was drenched to the bone while looking for a cab from the train station in China and it seeped through to the passport in my pocket.
  • A few pages over, there’s a beautiful Guatemalan stamp that is covered by an ugly French EU stamp, because the wanker in the King’s Cross-St. Pancras immigration line couldn’t take the fucking time to find one of the many blank pages.
  • There’s the one stamp I did myself, a muddy indigo portrait of Machu Picchu available for tourists buying tickets a few hundred feet downhill from the summit.
  • There’s the UK visa, accompanied with my unsmiling mug-shot portrait, which ensured my legal status over the best year of my life.
  • There’s the blocky shamrock-green stamp, from the short line in Ireland, where the Garda officer glanced at my middle name, and said, “Matthew Donovan?  Sounds like you got some Irish in ya.”  (Ka-chunk CHUNK.)  “Welcome home, lad.”

It’s a snobbery, I know, to assume that the lady at the Passport Agency doesn’t have one herself, or that hers isn’t full of ink, but my travel history is one of the few snobberies I feel I’ve earned.  In what I hope will be the ten poorest years of my life, I managed to visit 5 continents and 38 countries, got robbed or pickpocketed 7 times, met hundreds of people, took hundreds of pictures, wrote hundreds of blogs, ate hundreds of different types of food, and drank hundreds of different types of drink.  I got violently ill from food poisoning, alcohol poisoning, altitude sickness, and Monteczuma’s revenge.  I bungee jumped into a cave, I got quarantined for swine flu, I swam with Great White Sharks, and I biked 105 miles through a desert.

Travel has been good to me.  And in the approaching decade, I don’t know how often I’ll get to use it, much less who I’ll be at age 37.  16-year-old me was an asshole.  I think I’m a little bit better now, partly in thanks to travel.  I’ll get back to you in ten years, when I’m sending in another decade for renewal.

From Hell: Living in History But Not Remembering It

About a year before I moved to London, I read Alan Moore’s graphic novel, From Hell, a fictionalized account of the Jack the Ripper killings in Victorian England.  The book was probably one of the most stunning works of fiction I’d ever come into contact with.  At times a left-wing conspiracy theory implicating Queen Victoria and the Freemasons in the murders, at times times a rumination on the century that followed the Whitechapel Murders, and at times a depiction of the history contained in the stones of London, I finished it and found that it had given me nightmares – a thing I hadn’t experienced in over a decade.

Then, around a month after I finished the book, as I was planning to move to London to get my master’s from the LSE, I was offered a room in Lilian Knowles House, a graduate student dormitory in the East End of London.

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The “A” Marker, obviously, is Lilian Knowles House, which sits on Crispin Street. Running perpendicular to Crispin street is an unnamed alley.  This alley – where you see the Parking sign and the Dallas News – used to be Dorset Street, which was widely known as “The Worst Street in London,” and inspired Jack London to write his book People of the Abyss.

The little indentation in the roof of that building would be approximately where Miller’s Court used to be, which was the site of the final Jack the Ripper murder – that of Mary Jane Kelly (whose throat was cut and then, since the Ripper had some privacy, was chopped to pieces).

Miller’s Court is gone, but the Providence Row Night Refuge and Convent – a place where Mary Jane Kelly once worked and many men, women, and children stayed a night when they had nowhere else to go – still exists.  Now it’s a dorm for the London School of Economics, called Lilian Knowles.

The door that used to be the women’s entrance…

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…had become my kitchen window.

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Some of us were mildly excited to live on such an infamous street, and the guy who put together the Facebook group for our building dubbed us “The Rippers.”  Then we moved in and found that “Ripper Tours” were walked passed our kitchen window every single day.  The tourists would stand there and take pictures of the “Women” sign, which happened to be just above my stove.

So every day around dinner time, a campily dressed, top-hatted tour guide would stop beneath our kitchen window and say, “Back in Jack’s day, this was where the poorest of the poor used to live.  Now, it’s student housing.  Some things never change.”

“Haha!” the crowd would say.

“I should’ve worn fucking pants into the kitchen,” I would say.

I never took the Ripper tour myself, which was maybe an oversight, but I had other things to do, like study and drink.  I’ve also never been the morbid type.  Even Law & Order is a bit much for me.  Like, I’m into horror as long as it’s the campfire kind, and not the “hey, look at this lady who was chopped into a billion pieces.”

I left London almost a year ago, and in a bizarre fit of nostalgia a couple weeks ago, I bought From Hell for my graphic novel collection (12 books and counting!) in the hope that at some point, I would glimpse the Providence Row Night Refuge, or at least see it mentioned in the appendices.  It wasn’t, though there were a few times I thought I saw what could possibly have been the fence along the front of it.

One of my favorite parts about living in London was that it felt like history was in every stone.  “Oh, Oscar Wilde used to hang out at this pub,” or  “This is where Karl Marx used to drink,” or  “Jack the Ripper stalked his victims in the Ten Bells,”  (Most of British history involves pubs).  But the neighborhood I was living in was not the same neighborhood it had been 125 years before I arrived.  It has become posh and gentrified, no longer a street renowned for it’s near-constant murders and bar fights.  Around when I was leaving Keira Knightley was  moving into the neighborhood.  Just a few decades earlier, she wouldn’t have gone there for fear of being mugged.

We’ve become detached from our history.  It has been sanitized and cleaned up in nearly every regard.  In Britain, it’s a place where we can tour the sites of horrific murders and feel a pang of nostalgia.

In the U.S., we view people like Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson as heroes, and we are willing to ignore their mistakes.  We gloss over slavery, the American Indian genocide, or our current exploitation of immigrants and sweatshop workers across the world, and say – constantly, incessantly, abhorrently – on the floors of Congress that we are the “greatest nation on earth.”

Americans don’t even like to remember their history.  I can’t trace my family much further back than my grandparents.  The idea is that we’re here now, and that’s all that matters.  But there are consequences to not being able to recall a time before the automobile.  There are consequences to history being that clean.

You can’t clean up Jack the Ripper.

During the Mary Kelly murder scene in From Hell, as Jack the Ripper is tearing apart her corpse, he starts to hallucinate.  He suddenly finds himself transported to an office in the 1980’s, and as he looks around at the people around him, he says:

tumblr_mizx9rr3wk1qaqs9so1_400He continues:

Your days were born in blood and fires, whereof in you I may not see the meanest spark!

Your past is pain and iron!

Know yourselves!

With all your shimmering numbers and your lights, think not to be inured to history.  Its black root succours you.  It is INSIDE you.  Are you asleep to it, that cannot feel its breath upon your neck, nor see what soaks in its cuffs?

See me!  Wake up and look upon me! I am come among amongst you.  I am with you always!

And The World’s Best Capital City Is…

When I got about halfway through last week’s final round in the Capital City face-off, I realized, “Holy shit, I am tired of writing about this.”  Which is probably a bad sign if I ever decide to write a book.  Here’s the round-up of what happened in previous rounds:

Round One: Nightlife

  1. Buenos Aires
  2. London
  3. D.C.
  4. Beijing

Round Two: Food

  1. D.C.
  2. Buenos Aires
  3. London
  4. Beijing

Round Three:  High Society

  1. London
  2. D.C.
  3. Buenos Aires
  4. Beijing

Round Four:  The People

  1. London
  2. D.C.
  3. Buenos Aires
  4. Beijing

So if we’re going on a simple points based model, here are the final rankings:

THE BEST CAPITAL CITIES ON THE PLANET (THAT I HAVE LIVED IN)

  1. London
  2. D.C.
  3. Buenos Aires
  4. Beijing

My confession: I always planned on having London winning and having D.C. in second.  Because as I’ve made clear before, London is my favorite city on the planet, and if I could be living there, I would.  Horrible circumstance (in the form of David Cameron’s shitty dumb Tory government) has me back here in the United States, however.  I’ve been known to grumble about this in a manner typical of the student abroad:  “In Spain, the wine was so good.   I mean, this is good, but not Barthalona good.”

It’s unappealing to everyone:  My friends here think, “Well, maybe if you shut the fuck up about London, you wouldn’t think so much about it,” and all of my friends still in London think, “It’s really not that great here.”  Even the snide part of me, the part that sits in the back of my brain and says, “This is bullshit,” to everything I do, is saying, “You remember that you got a nasty case of S.A.D. there, right?  And that a good month and a half was spent in existential despair?”

Yes, jerk part of brain.  I remember that.  Which was the point of this exercise.  London clicked with me on a very basic level when I went there the first time 11 years ago, and D.C. never really did.  But D.C. also has virtually everything I want from a city:  an intelligent population, an unhealthy bar-to-person ratio, an excess of museums, fantastic music venues, indie theaters, quaint coffee shops and bookstores, and the derision of the middle America I grew up in.  So this was fundamentally a practice in saying, “You’ll always love London more, but try loving D.C. now.”  This has been the travel blog equivalent of Stephen Stills’ 1970 pop hit, “Love the One Your With.”

One of my biggest revelations over the past year and a half is that you just can’t objectively write about things like travel or food or books or movies or TV shows.  (Except Atlas Shrugged.  Atlas Shrugged is objectively bad.)  If you love something, you love it because of attributes that are specific to you.  Others may love your thing, but they love it in their own way.  There are people I know who think Beijing is the best city on earth.  I thought it was the worst.  They’re not wrong, and neither am I.

This is why travel writing usually blows:  it’s trying to sell the good parts about the place so you buy a flight or a hotel there, when in reality, you can’t know your feelings towards something until you meet it.  I’m of the opinion that travel writing should never revel or adore the place it’s focusing on.  I wrote an ode to London in the form of a “what you should pack” blog last year, and a friend posted it to Reddit, where Londoners freaked out over what a dick I was.  Even my “I love you’s” are dickish.  Travel writing should be about the relationship you have with the place you are traveling through.

Beijing and I didn’t get along.  Buenos Aires and I could spend time together, but we didn’t much care for each other, and we didn’t try and stay in touch afterwards. London was a prickly sort of love, and D.C. is the rebound.

 

Capitalism Battle Blog, Round 4: People

I’m giving up on branding this tournament with any consistency.  If you missed the past three, I selected winners for the Capital City with the best Night Life, Food, and High Society.  This is the penultimate Capitalism Battle Blog (actually, I like the ring of that, I’ll probably stick with that title), so next week I’ll be crowning a WORLD CHAMPEEN of the Capitals, which will have been selected using extremely vigorous criteria and also science.

This week, I’m focusing on the People that inhabit these cities, which means I should start off with a disclaimer.  I recognize that not all Londoners, Buenos Aryans1, Beijingers, and Washingtonians are the exact same person.  Everyone is a precious flower2.  That said, cities do have personalities, and the personalities are formed by the history, the culture, the climate, the geography, the food, the politics, and ten billion other things.  So if you are a resident of one of these cities and you feel like I’m being a dick3, then just assume I’m not talking about you personally.

Beijing: Okay, so I don’t actually speak any Chinese.  It was too hard of a language to learn, because it’s tonal, because I was only there for two months, and because I didn’t like Beijing so I didn’t want to give them the pleasure of speaking their stupid language.  The only words I ended up learning were “Hello,” which is “Nihau,” “Thank you,” which is “Xie xie,” and “Beer,” which is “Pi-jiu.4”  Because the word changes depending on how you pronounce it, you could be saying “Hello,” or you could be saying, “Take me to sodomy town.”  Point being that I can’t really be a judge of the Beijing personality because I was going almost entirely off of body language and tone of voice.  So here is a short list of observations (not judgments!) about the Beijing “personality” as gleaned from my reading of their tone and body language.

  • They like to spit.
  • They like to shout.
  • The cabbies do not pick up tall white people, and if you wear a heavy hat so they don’t see that you’re a white guy and then jump into the back of their cab, you have to just keep shouting where you want to go and pretend you don’t understand the very clear “GET THE FUCK OUT” gestures they are making.
  • When they do speak English, they usually tell you how much they don’t like you.

Maybe with the ancient and spectacular language of Mandarin Chinese thrown in there, this is all delightful and charming.

Buenos Aires:  I spoke much more Spanish than I did Chinese, which is to say I could order beer and wine and could also say, “How much for the beer and wine?”  Even so, I was never fluent in Spanish, so this will also probably be an unfair judgment of the people.  Also, I hung out almost exclusively with Americans while I was there.  Here are the interactions I remember most vividly with Argentines:

  • A whore pickpocketed me.
  • A man threatened to punch my friend after my friend threw a tortilla at him.
  • I walked into a dance club for a grand total of 3 minutes before I became so aware of my lack of masculinity that I fled to the nearest bar.
  • One of my American friends’ Argentine girlfriends was a waitress at a local bar and she gave me free peanuts all the time.

So I’d say three bad experiences and one where I was treated like an elephant.  Which seems like a bad picture to be painting of the Argentines, because I generally found them to be pleasant people.

London:  When someone asked me why I loved London so much, I started rattling off a list of reasons, and eventually got to, “The people are friendly,” where she stopped me.  “Friendly?” she said, “Are you serious?” Which is a fair point.  People in London are objectively unfriendly.  They are stoic, cold, and give off a general air of, “I’m not to be bothered.”  The upper class types are vaguely like Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones, but more so.  I once saw a man who looked so regal and severe that my first thought was, “I’ll bet his son disappoints him.”  The man who plays Tywin Lannister, Charles Dance, was quoted recently as asking the Game of Thrones producers if they’d ever heard of the missionary position in Westeros.  They are literally the type of people who sniff, “Doggy style?  I can’t say I approve of that.”

Then there are the football hooligan types who run around chanting, “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack!”  Also, the Dursleys.

Caricatures of awful Britishness aside, the people tend to be cold, emotionally repressed, ironic, and world-weary.  Needless to say, I fucking love the British.

Washington, D.C.:  D.C. is, as I have noted, a made up city.  Because it exists specifically for the government, there’s actually no middle class here.  No one makes anything.  So as a result, there’s only the rich and powerful, and those who serve them.  There are subcategories, yes:  I, for example, am well-educated, so I would be considered an upwardly-mobile servant.  Much of the serving class of the city though, is black, and so it is naturally neglected by the local government, which has taken a “gentrify the ‘sketchiness’5 out of every neighborhood,” approach.  As such, you have a fun mixture of the destitute and the upper crust.

I don’t really hang out with the destitute, because I’m still a suburban white boy at heart, but I do hang out with the upwardly-mobile serving class, and I think it generally consists of the following three people:

  1. Evil bastards who want money or power.
  2. Hyper-ambitious throat-cutters who want to make daddy proud.
  3. Idealists who are possibly annoying but generally good people.

I have actually heard tales of Capitol Hill interns shouting at baristas, “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”  So that’s the type of place I live now.

The Winner Is…

Wow, I was not flattering about any of these.  Probably London, I guess.  I’m glad this stupid fucking blog series is coming to an end.

  1. London
  2. D.C.
  3. Buenos Aires
  4. Beijing

1. Fun Fact: This is the official term for people from Buenos Aires. A group of them is known as a “Heil,” like, “A heil of Buenos Aryans.”
2. Except in Beijing.
3. He is being a dick.
4. For the first month, I just assumed they were serving me pee and calling me a Jew.
5. Whitespeak for “black.”

Capital City Cage Match: High Society

So I shortened the name of the tournament in the title of this blog because “Super Awesome Sudden Death Capital City Face-Off Tournament” takes up a lot of space, and you know what, internet?  You’re too A.D.D. to finish reading a title that’s 9 words long.  There.  I said it.  Hang your head in shame1.

The last two weeks have covered the lowlife aspects of the Capital Cities:  Food2 and Nightlife.  This week, we’ll be entering the realm of high society:  what the rich and famous do when they’re not wisely ruling over us from the seats of power.  Because that’s what Capital cities are all about:  making the powerful look good (we’ll get to the politics of the cities at some point, but I’m still not entirely sure what the Queen does, so we’re putting it off until I do further research3).

So what do the rich and famous do in London, Buenos Aires, Beijing, and Washington?  How do they spend time, being much smarter and more interesting that you, the lowly reader of my blog, are?4 And which of these cities is more sophisticated, more refined than the others?

Beijing:  In Glorious People’s Republic of China, expanding your mind is encouraged.  You should expand your mind on the triumph of the people over the capitalist proletariat rapists as much as possible.  You know a good person to read on that?  Chairman Mao.  You know who else you should read on that?  Deng Xiaopeng.  Do you know who else would be a good person to read on that?  THERE ARE NO OTHER INDIVIDUALS IN THE PRC!  TO THE RE-EDUCATION CENTER WITH YOU!

Sorry, it’s just not a commentary on China unless it has a caricatured 1950’s-style Communist propaganda vibe to it.  Seriously though, Beijing actually does have a ton of cultural shit to do.  Unfortunately, all of them are covered up by huge pictures of Mao Zedong.

ForbiddenCity_MaoZedongPortrait_(pixinn.net)

NOTHING TO SEE HERE! MOVE ALONG!

Your options include:  The Summer Palace.  This is a very pretty palace where the Emperor’s used to go to live in the summer.  I guess.  I didn’t actually take the time to look that “fact” up.  Then there’s the Forbidden City, which is not even remotely Forbidden any more, because under communism, nothing is Forbidden in China!  Anyone can go anywhere they please!5 There’s also the gigantic Tiananmen Square, which lies just outside the Forbidden City, and where NOTHING BAD HAS EVER HAPPENED.  If you happen to go there on the 20th Anniversary of when absolutely nothing happened, you’ll even get to see a display of the people’s glorious might!  Tanks, as far as the eye can see!  Which is not happening for any specific reason!

Buenos Aires:  In Buenos Aires, there is a ton of culture.  There are a lot of museums, sculptures, and parks all over the goddamn place.  I lived right by the Recoleta Cemetery, which is where many of Argentina’s famous people are buried, including Eva Peron, who, if you’re one half of the Argentine population, you know as “Evita,” and, if you’re the other half, you know as, “That fucking lowlife whore.”

La-Recoleta-Cemetery_Great-mortuary-art-at-La-Recoleta-Cemetery_3996

Recoleta is way more of a tourist attraction than a cemetery should be, so there’s a park with a bunch of artisans right outside it selling doo-dads.  It’s a very fun place to hang out and get pickpocketed in.

It’s hard to say what “high society” does in Buenos Aires though, because the traditional cultural elements that the city is best known for  have lower-class origins.  For example, tango was a dance that was invented in the neighborhood of La Boca while the working class gentlemen were waiting in line for the brothels.  This obviously wasn’t where the ruling class hung out.  They hung out in the much more expensive brothels.

These days, though, most of the ruling class is in jail for war crimes during the Dirty War.  So in Buenos Aires, we’re stuck drinking cheap wine and doing sexy dances.

London:  London is the home of the upper crust, muthafuckas.  They do classy better than everyone else.  They’re so upper crust that they wouldn’t let me be a part of it.  Which was a bit disappointing.  I have to say, I didn’t particularly try to get involved in the upper crust there, in part because the upper crust consists of Monarchists and Tories, people who are actual caricatures of British snobbiness.  They say words like “dreadful” and “ghastly” in reference to races of people, and more appallingly, they drink tea.  I never went to a tea time, because I have no idea what a crumpet is, and I refuse to eat one6.

The Monopoly Guy Ace Ventura

Fun Fact: There is no free parking in London!

All of this aside, London has a spectacular amount of culture.  They have about 10 billion museums, although they’re often tainted with people of the lower classes because they’re free7.  Then there are the parks, the gorgeous neighborhoods, the markets, and don’t even get me started on the West End.  I saw 3 plays there, and two of them were Les Mis.  Upper class people like me love Les Mis, because it reminds them how all revolutions will fail in the face of a class with superior military breeding.  I recently saw a performance of Hello, Dolly!  here in D.C., and it was clearly performed by people of inferior breeding.  They didn’t even know how to hold a champagne glass8.

Washington, D.C.: The Capital of the United States has a lot of high culture, but again, they ruin it by letting the poor in.  That’s democracy for you.  “The people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”  The real high society here doesn’t take place in museums or theaters, though.  They learned long ago that theaters are great places to get shot.   No, it takes place in back rooms in swanky rowhouses on the hills surrounding the city, where everything’s made of mahogany, and people are only allowed to wear clothes made of thin leather straps9.  As such, it’s impossible for me to comment on High Society here in the American City.

The Winner Is…

London.  None of the others even hold a candle to it.  Literally every street in London is it’s own museum, with 2000 years of history behind it.  My street in London was where the final Jack the Ripper murder happened, and the building I lived in was a former battered women’s home that many of his victims lived in.  Down the road was the site of an IRA bombing and the site of Henry VIII’s arsenal.  There’s more culture there than you can shake a fist at10.

D.C. gets a distant second, though Buenos Aires nearly ties.  D.C. is an invented city, so it loses points for that, and it has 1800 fewer years of history than London.  Buenos Aires is a bit older, but the culture there often “low society,” which, for the record, I greatly prefer.  The upper classes live in separate neighborhoods, for the most part, and imitate the Europeans, while the lower class serve their delicious food, wine, and dance to the visiting tourists.  Beijing, again, comes in last place.  This is a more fair last place than I have been giving them though.  It’s probably becoming pretty clear that Beijing is not my favorite of these cities.

  1. London
  2. D.C.
  3. Buenos Aires
  4. Beijing

1. Please keep reading my blog.
2. Food is for proles.  The rich don’t need to eat.  This is because their superior breeding has allowed their bodies to become 100% efficient.  Also, rich people don’t poop.
3. Update: As of press time for this blog, she still hasn’t done anything.
4. Seriously, PLEASE keep reading my blog.
5. And you ONLY want to go to the Forbidden City, right? RIGHT?
6. Not eating something when I don’t technically know what is in it is not a hard and fast rule for me. I’ve eaten haggis before, and I regularly eat food on the American continent.
7. Fucking Labour. Come back, Maggie! Come baaaaackkk!
8. The pinky should always be extended.
9. The exception being a ball gag.
10. And I have no idea what that saying means.

Super Awesome Sudden Death Capital City Face-Off Tournament, Round Two: Food

Last week, I determined that of the only four capital cities that matter1, Buenos Aires has the best night life.  That was a difficult thing for me to do, because I hate nightlife.  I like drinking, yes, but I’d just as soon do it with some friends and a Nintendo 64 (or with no friends for that matter), rather than going out and having to feel like a creep because all of the dolled up sorority alums think I look like a guy who will sneak up behind them on the dancefloor and freak on their butt.  Buenos Aires won though, and the reason was mostly because other people told me it had the best night life.  I’ll be deciding these categories on my own authority from now on.  Also, you’ll notice I’ve discovered how to write footnotes with HTML.  I promise there will be less of them less week.  Just let me have my fun.2

This week is going to be much easier.  It’s on Food.

FOOOOOOOOOOOOOD

The author dining in Beijing.

The author dining in Beijing.

Beijing:  Let’s be clear:  Chinese food in America is a weak, weak approximation of actual Chinese food.  The reason behind this is that Americans won’t eat meat that is pulpy and vegetables that are literally glowing.  No, in America, we expect what we eat to be edible, and that’s an extremely low standard, god dammit, and we won’t bend on it, unless you count Cheetos.  Beijing’s food is not great.  This isn’t to say all of Chinese food is bad:  I had some decent meals in Shanghai, at Mexican and Japanese restaurants.  And this isn’t to say that Beijing’s food is the worst China has to offer.  In Tibet – which the shrillest of you are saying IS NOT IN CHINA and oh my god, who cares, there are like 20 people3 there and literally none of them are the Dalai Lama – they serve you yak meat and rancid yak milk.  I’m not sure which of these things gives you the poops, but one of these things definitely gives you the poops.

In Beijing, the best meal you can have is Peking Duck.  It is an extremely delicious roast duck that you can gently pull apart and dip in hoisin sauce.  It is the national dish of China, which is fortunate, because almost everything else is horrible5, and would be shameful to serve to anyone who is not a mortal enemy.  The main beer served in China is Tsingtao, which is somewhat equivalent to our Natural Light.  It isn’t bad by light beer standards, which is to say it’s horrible.  On the other hand, all the food in Beijing is incredibly cheap.  So I guess B+?6

The author drinking mate in a Buenos Aryan hotel room.

The author drinking mate in a Buenos Aryan hotel room.

Buenos Aires:  Buenos Aires has some pretty delicious food.  That said, I almost always ordered Gnocchi Bolognese when we went out, because I like all of my meals to consist of potatoes and meat sauce8. Buenos Aires is known for a few things:  Steaks, Wine, Empanadas, and Dulce de Leche.  This is a pretty impressive list of things to be known for, and it’s why Buenos Aires is known as the “Paris of South America.”  “The Paris of” is an extraordinarily important title that cities apply to themselves when they don’t have anything original to offer.  Something can be designated “The Paris of” something if has a lot of strings of incandescent lights, dancing, and drunks publicly pooping in front of appalled visiting children.  It’s exactly why I call our family Christmas tree “the Paris of our living room.”

Overall, Buenos Aryan food is delicious, because overall, it’s steak.  You can go into restaurants and order parillas, which are dishes that serve you a bunch of exotic parts of the cow.9 Then they serve you wine, and you finish it off with dulce de leche, which is basically warmed caramel.  Also, their traditional drink is called yerba mate.  It is an extremely potent type of tea that you drink out of a gourd.  It helps make you “regular” which is something Buenos Aryans need because of all the red meat they eat.

The author (and friends) drinking off a hangover in a London pub.

The author (and friends) drinking off a hangover in a London pub.

London:  Londoners are very sensitive about their food.  I once wrote about how I find their approach to meat10 kinda gross, and a friend posted it on Reddit, and they were furious that I had asserted one of the most agreed-upon facts in the culinary world:  English food is disgusting.  Does that mean I didn’t eat a ton of it?  No.  Does that mean I don’t like it?  No.  But I have also bought bagged gas-station burgers, put them in my pockets to warm them up thru thigh friction, and then eaten them with absolutely no condiments in front of my horrified roommates.

So let’s be clear:  London does have really good food.  It just doesn’t have good English food.  But English food is not designed to delight:  it’s designed to absorb hangovers and get you through the winter.  London does have incredible Indian/Middle Eastern/Pakistani food, and, strangely, the best American restaurant I have ever been to.  It’s called MeatLiquor.  It specializes in Meat and Liquor and it smells like an abattoir, which is exactly how American restaurants should smell.

The author eating a fried goddamn burger in D.C.

The author eating a fried goddamn burger in D.C.

Washington, D.C.:  D.C. is a rich and powerful man’s city.  It’s the type of place where you would want to bring a congressman to a quiet, expensive restaurant, and tell them that you are literally going to crush them to death under a pile of your money unless they vote in favor of the “Making Oil Out of Aborted Fetuses” Amendment to the Farm Bill.  You want them to be eating a delicious and expensive meal, so they know you have the money to do it. As a result, D.C. has absolutely incredible food.  There are like, 70 trillion restaurants, and I have yet to go to one that is bad.  It is also crawling with food trucks, which serve surprisingly delicious food to you while you’re drunk11.

The Winner Is…

Okay, I have to think about this.  I was going to disqualify each city depending on whether or not it had given me the poops, but all of these cities have done that.

  1. London:  Chilango’s Burritos gave me the poops.
  2. D.C.:  Founding Farmers gave me the poops.
  3. Buenos Aires:  A shitty pizzeria next to the Casa Rosada gave me the poops.
  4. Beijing:  All of Beijing gave me the poops.

So I have to go with D.C.  As much as I love London and Buenos Aires, I’ve had probably 50% of the top 100 most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in D.C., and I’ve lived here less than a year.  Here are the final rankings:

  1. D.C. – Because look at that goddamn burger.  It’s goddamn fried.
  2. Buenos Aires – Because you can eat all of a cow.
  3. London – Because even English food is better than food in:
  4. Beijing

1. Cities I have lived in.

2. Hi!

3. Actually, 2 million.  China is an advanced society that has realized that individual human life is essentially worthless.  I’m seriously not disagreeing with them here.  But for the sake of not coming off as cold, they’ve created an inflationary measure of what 1 person is.  1 person = 100,000 actual people.  This may sound cold and calculating to the Western Audience, but it’s actually a much more utilitarian and honest4 way of thinking about the world than we Americans do, by weighting a person’s value by class and race.

4. None of this is true.

5. Most of my meals in China were taken at the closest and cheapest restaurant to my hotel.  It was a really gross restaurant, but also served grape soda.

6. I’m not planning on using letter grades for anything else in this series.7 Probably.

7. I just realized why I’ve never had a writing job.

8. Good news for London.

9. Fun Fact:  All parts of the cow are delicious.

10. “The meat’s dry? Put some gravy on it. Problem solved.”

11. Technically, all food is surprisingly delicious when you’re drunk.