Two Barcelona Observations & A Note on Spanish Translations

Random Observation: The dogs on the street here are incredibly well behaved and most of them aren’t on leashes. They typically follow a few feet behind their masters or walk beside them. I’ve seen hundreds of dogs and not once have I seen two them act aggressive towards one another, even if one is an excited puppy.

Random Knowledge: During the regime of Franco, a law forced restaurants to offer a “Menu del Dia” so that every working man, regardless of his wages, would be able to enjoy a filling yet affordable lunch out. The law’s gone but the tradition continues and is the reason why €6.50 meals are still offered throughout Barcelona and the rest of Spain. Fascism – It takes away your right to organize and fight for higher wages, but provides you with cheap calories!

Translations: As part of my interest in  15m and the post-left political turn generally, today I started reading and translating Pensar el 15M y otros textos. There’s not yet been any high-profile news related to this book in Spain in the same way that the Tarnac 9 brought attention to The Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection, but I’m hoping that with the translation of this into english it will provide the english-only speaking world with a better understanding of some of the political and social issues happening here in Spain and indeed the rest of Europe. At Harper’s Magazine, Nathan Schneider has a good article about OWS (also available here), the American manifestation of the Spanish manifestacios. If you are interested in reading some chapters before I shop them to publishers, email me.


Border guards in crisp uniforms putting a mirror on wheels under the carriage of a bus while going through Check Point Charlie, speaking on the radio in Poland on the day that Solidarity wins the elections, interrogation on a train in a broken English accented by a thick Russian accent, running from Soviet police in St. Petersburg after trading blue jeans on the black market for Soviet kitsch, exploring the wide streets surrounded by drab apartment blocks and walking around Red Square in awe of the Kremlin, St. Basil’s cathedral and the preserved body of Lenin seems like scenes from a period spy movie. This was, however, all a part of the last extended trip I took to Berlin. Twenty-three years ago, when the Berlin Wall still divided the city and I was six, I went on a trip with my father and sister through East and West Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. While this time my visit to Berlin was much less dramatic the traces of the conflict were still visible in the city and though it is less tense than the way things were, the continuance of credit down grades and problems within the Eurozone that Merkozy can’t fix does provide an ambiance which though not as tense could be of equal importance for the health and stability of Europe.

After arriving to the apartment that I’d rented in the western section of Berlin, Josselyn and I rested for a few hours as our early flight and initial problems navigating the city public transit had drained our energy. After this and a meal we decided to go to the German History Museum. My initial apprehension following the coldness of the staff when I spoke in what must have sounded like the German spoken by a provincial adolescent quickly dissipated upon entering the main foyer. Large statues of Friedrich the Great, Lenin and other significant historical figures greet the attendee and when going into the chronologically first room artifacts, models and explanations as to their first historical interactions with the Roman immediately transported me back in time. From a young age I’d been interested in European history, culture, thought and development but I can say without reliance upon this taste of mine that there are few museum as wonderful and amazing as the German History Museum. Simply cataloging all of the pieces there that made me grin with geekish glee would make me happy, but doing so would turn this blog into a history book and it is not my intention to do this. Rather, I’ll simply state that the 2nd floor was composed of the first elements of German history and went until 1917. The first floor was filled with the more recent period and didn’t skimp on documentation related to the Nazis. I could have spent the whole day there, but was only there a few hours.

After this Josselyn and I ate some Japanese food and then walked around the city a  bit more before heading back so as to get an early start on the next day.

We started off our day with a guided historical tour of the city. After walking along Unter der Linden past the Reichstag we met in front of Brandenburger Tor, the Berlin equivalent of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. The guide began with a brief history of the various wars that were fought and tragedies that happened to the German people in their history prior to unification as one country. The importance of this was especially evident in the banners hanging from street lights saying “Wir Sind Ein Volk” or “We are one people” as a means of advertising for the German National History Museum. I was curious to see whether modern Germans have the same reaction to Cardinal de Richeliu as the Irish do to Oliver Cromwell, but when I asked the guide he had no response to give me for either way.

Stopping at an unmarked spot, our guide informed us that this was that spot where Hitler committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun and then had his body burned with petrol. I remember passing by that place on a bus tour twenty three years ago and feeling the same sense of happiness that though this persons grave site was in living memory it was institutionally erased due to the horrors he assisted in imposing on so many millions of people.

Fittingly enough after this we went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an abstract art installation meant to commemorate all of the people of Jewish faith that had been killed in the Second World War. Large and small slabs of poured concrete of varying sizes occupied a city block. Some were of a formidable size and because of the changes in elevation of the terrain made it such that in the center of the installation you feel surrounded and overwhelmed by the proximity and enormity of the blocks. Though abstract, it was quite powerful and Josselyn and I both expressed the sorrows that we each felt.

After this we started walking to Checkpoint Charlie, stopping at a place wherein man workers were killed in an uprising against the East German authorities. Adjacent to this building memorializing them was a dilapidated building which had a sign on it that said “C.I.A. Interrogation Center”. We continued pass this and by a number of building which were scheduled for demolition to turn into a mall. It was currently delayed due to financial setbacks and the ironies of capitalism failing to cover the socialism continued. We walked past the Topography of Terror museum and finally made it to the checkpoint, which had turned from a very serious location to one wherein tourists would get there passport stamped for two Euros by jocular men in East German outfits.

After this we went to Gerndarmenmarkt – site of Franzosische and Deutsche Dom as well as the Schauspielhaus. The square, intended to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, definitely met with the plans of the designers. After this we walked to St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the first Catholic place of worship built in this historically Protestant city as a way of appeasing the Silesians who were annexed by Prussia from Poland in 1742. We walked along Humbolt-University, once the university of such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Friedrich Engels. I quickly looked through the books on display outside of the university as I wanted to pick up a copy of a book by Hegel or Marx in German to put my old studies to some use but saw nothing in my quick peek.

We ended the tour in Museumsinsel, or museum island. While not actually an island, this is where the Alte Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum, the Pergamonmuseum and the Neuemuseum are located. After our tour we had some food and drinks then went to the Marx-Engels Forum to visit the statues of, wait for it, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It took us a while to find, and we came across a beautiful fountain of Neptune. After this we went down Rosa Luxembourg Alley to the Mitte neighborhood in order to look at several of the smaller art galleries, such as the Sara Aspeger Gallery. We were planning on going through much more but decided to instead go to the East Side Gallery, the 1200-yard long art gallery painted by 118 artists. While I didn’t find but two of the pieces to be particularly good, just being at this world-historical sight made up for its lack of artistic merit and reading some of the graffiti written on the works provided additional amusement. One of these “vandals” had apparently decided to write a small essay in which he called the Dalai Lama a C.I.A. agent and expressed hopes that Chavo del 8 would never end despite all of the main characters of the show being dead.

From here we walked over the on a graffiti tour to see works by Blu, Nomad, Os Gemeos, Ema and London Police. Many thanks go to for having this free walking tour available for download to mobile devices. We stopped briefly at a squat house, but as Josselyn was feeling anxious we left without spending much time there.

Sunday began by our going to the Mauerpark, located at Prenzlauer. This area, which once made up part of the no man’s land zone between East and West Berlin now host a large weekly flea market. The irony of such a capitalist venture in such a place is of course amusing, but the large impromptu market was also enjoyable. I like such flea markets as in a way they are similar to museums. Andy Warhol makes a statement along similar lines when he compares going to Macy’s with going to a museum. There is something about seeing all of the human made objects that allows one to consider and think about the human condition in a certain way that non-immersion in them lacks. There was delicious foods and drinks here, several musical performers and a whole slew of goods that would be able to fulfill anyone’s desires.

The amount of music related goods for sale was impressive – there were several record vendors, a pocket DJ mixer seller and several people hocking various used musical instruments – as was the number of locally made clothing and accessory designs. I wanted to purchase a particular picture that was Berlin for display once I return home – but discovered that I wouldn’t have to buy it now and take it home but could order it online once I’m back in the States. Proof again that the Internet destroys many of the particularities of place location. After eating a plum pastery, drinking a coffee and having some delicious tomato soup with fresh sage bread from one of the food vendors.

Following this was a trip to Treptower Park, the largest Soviet Military memorial built outside of U.S.S.R. It was created to commemorate the more than 22,000 Soviet soldiers which died taking Berlin from the Nazis. The iconic main statue of the park is of a Soviet soldier with a child being held by his left arm and a sword at his feet atop a crushed swastika. One could hardly imagine a more powerful monument that so clearly refutes slanders which conflates Nazism and Soviet Communism even though they are variants of national socialism – communist internationalism and Volksgemeinshaft are antagonistic to the core, not complimentary.

Treptower is one of the few places where the traces of Josef Stalin have not been removed from institutional memory. I’ve been to many places once occupied by statues of his, but few remain erected. I find memorial parks like these interesting places for reflections on the relationship between the former Soviet Union and the West. In the discussions on the policies of Stalin and his varied crimes one Krondstadt moment or another is inevitably brought up. Whether it is the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the forced collectivization of the countryside, the paranoid fear of the Trotskyist opposition that caused him to dangerously weaken the ranks of party and military through intrigue, imprisonment and murder or the cult of personality that has made it’s way into modern dictators Kim Jong Il. While no Stalinist apologist, I find that when I get into conversations with people my knowledge of the historical context complicates their information received from movies, pundits and demagogues. For instance, relating the political and economic developments in America at the turn of the 19th and 20th century to those in the just formed U.S.S.R. sheds light on issues and complicates them to such a degree that the Cold Warriors mentality of black and white cannot be sustained. As the period of discussion widens so does the conceptual framework and differentiation becomes about competing forms of modernization and the possibilities of domestic policies given specific constraints.

That said, the park itself was quite pleasant. The wide walkways were filled with small children riding bikes whilst there parents kept a watchful eye on them lest they should fall or get close to a passerby by and risk collision. There were several red flowers and small wreaths laid out in front of the statue of a weeping mother by the entrance and groups of three or four people speaking in English, French and Russian at the 14 scenes from the war on the white, tomb-like monuments leading up to the main statue. Amusingly enough, considering the site I’d just visited, I saw on the metro television a memorial for Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebnieckt, two political activists who’d been murdered by fascist forces in Berlin in 1919.

Following Treptower Park was Siegessaule, or the Victory Column. It was originally built in 1873 to celebrate the Prussian victories over Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870/1871). The base of the column is surrounded by a cast iron relief of scenes depicting the fighting that went on between France and Prussia. These are badly damaged as following the German defeat the occupying French troops stole them and damaged them. Though it was given back lack, they remain unrepaired as a reminder of the indignity imposed upon the Germans. I walked up the 270 for a view of the city in the middle of the Tiergarten Park and was pleased with the view though it was very cold and windy. While I was here, Josselyn went to the Topography of Terror and ended up staying there for four hours.  I wanted to go to that museum but I was in so much pain from all of the walking that I’d been doing that I needed to rest my ankle which was still been hurting me since before going to Madrid.

We met back up at the apartment and after a short rest we were both ready to go out and finally see Karl-Marx-Allee. While Josselyn was reluctant to go at first, after promising a steak dinner she quickly changed her mind. The street, originally named Stalinallee, was designed to be a large advertising project for the Soviets following their occupation of East Germany. The streets are 89 meters wide and the apartments on either side are created for both beauty and functionality. This style of Soviet deign, sometimes called “wedding-cake” for its ornamentation, meant that the buildings would often be covered with tiles. Such decorations were a way of showing that decorative minimalism based upon economic considerations need not prevent workers from enjoying the benefits of an advanced industrial society. This sort of functionalism combined with aesthetic beauty has its origins in the English garden communities.

We looked at the Haus der Lehrers building, passed by the Kino International, thought momentarily about entering Café Moskau before seeing their price list , laughed at the advertising for now defunct automobile producers on the top of a building placed there so that the ad-free Communist zone would have more of a “developed” feel to it, passed by the Floating Ring Fountain, the Karl Marx Bookshop and the Palaces of the Workers. I looked for the statue of Karl Marx that was supposed to be there, but we couldn’t find it. Eventually we made it to the Block of Houses designed by Richard Paulick and then ate at the unimaginatively named “Block House” steak house. After a delicious meal we went back to the apartment and prepared for out flight back to Barcelona.


“The best images and parables should speak of time and becoming: they should be a eulogy and a justification of all transitoriness.” – Nietzsche “Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Josselyn and I arrived in Stockholm around midnight and upon reaching our hotel went to sleep. To make up for lost time in the city we’d planned on waking up early start visiting some of Stockholm’s many wonderful museums, however our bedroom was like a tomb which let in no light or sound so we ended up sleeping until 1 p.m. When we finally got up we discovered that the snow that had welcomed us at night was still there, thankfully though there was only enough on the ground to give the city streets and walkways color.

We first went to the Royal Palace, the official living quarters of the Swedish royalty and when not being used for functions of state is a museum. The Palace is in the typical modern style, grand, imposing and uniform in structure with many statues adorning it’s outer walls and more on the roofs within the stonework. Less a protected, defensive castle-like structure it was, like those in Madrid and London, more of a symbol for national pride in the royal family that resided therein. Outside of the building, just like at Buckingham Palace, there were armed guards on rotation unwilling to speak with civilians.

By chance we arrived just in time to take a guided English tour of the facilities wherein the finer points of Royal hierarchies, awards, Swedish history and etiological stories in relation to the art and therein. I admittedly know and care little of Sweden’s imperial history and find the minutiae of the lives of Royals to be of no personal significance so this part wasn’t very thrilling for me. What I did find of interest, however, was the arts and sciences regalia. This section illustrated the transformation from awards given during the pre-modern era to those displaying military prowess to those given recognition for scientific and cultural advancement of the Sweden. This was an excellent example of the manner in which the Swedish monarchy was progressive – by encouraging such behavior outside of the rewards given by the marketplace. Other decorations were compelling, such as a beautiful statue of two lovers and paintings on the ceilings, but on the whole I find royal palaces to be grotesque, overbearing and an affront to my sensibilities. While I can appreciate the arts and craftsmanship that goes into creating royal antechambers, thrones and galleries containing the portraiture of various nobles the urge I have to take an axe to it all as an insult to humanity often prevents me from doing so. There are few things that I find as appalling as the notion of hereditary nobility and its continuation in one form or another in some many of the European countries disturbs me greatly especially as history had progressed past the point making regicide a necessity.

One of the aspects of the art contained within the palace that pleasantly surprised me was the amount of allegorical art, both functional in the form of clocks and decorative in the form of tapestries and paintings, related to classical Greek myth. I admit that my own ignorance got the best of me in this regard, but I’d imagined that Norse mythology would play a greater part in their decorative art. In fact I saw not one tale represented in this manner.

After this we walked to the Dance Museum. It was filled with costumes from locations such as China, Japan, Indonesia and India, however the greater focus was on Western European forms of dance. A set of original costumes from popular Russian ballets was on display to showcase the manner in which it was innovative at the time. Apparently after their entrance onto the Swedish scene it set off a new push towards greater use of intricate costuming. Josselyn was particularly attracted to the costumes from Black Swan, not only because of the movie with Natalie Portman which she loved but as she has danced the parts of the White and Black Swan before.

In addition to the costume displays, videos played of some of the most well-known ballet dancers of the past hundred years. While we watched these video of renowned dancers from the early 1900’s Josselyn informed me that today many of those dancers would today not be considered exceptional due to the increased competition to be a professional dancer. She said their kicks would be higher and their form would be more precise. Though it’s only since I’ve become involved with her that I’ve started attending dance performances at places such as Joyce Soho and Miami Dance Theater – and watching videos on YouTube this seems to be the case by my layman’s eyes. Regardless of this growth in the skills and abilities required from the start of the art to the professionalism standards demanded today, similar to other physically demanding occupations such as professional American football, I found that the museum did an excellent job in showing the universal human tendency towards gestural communication through dance though it did not anywhere make such commentary explicit.

My only regret was that no space was given to Modern, Latin or non-performance dance. The first two did not surprise me given the Scandinavian tendency towards conservatism, however the last did somewhat as I was hoping that there would be some sort of recognition of modern forms of non-performance, popular dance. I’ve read some interesting articles talking about social atomism in relation to modern popular dance and thought that a display contrasting Swedish folk dance with the people attending a concert by Swedish House Mafia would have made an interesting addition to the museum.

Following this we went to the National Museum, where I received an unexpected treat – the temporary exhibition of the Peredvizhniki painters. The Peredvizhniki, whose full name would be translated into “The Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions”, were a loose collection of artists that started in the 1870’s who exited the Royal Academy in order to paint scenes and themes that were on the borderline of what was considered acceptable by the Imperial censors of the time. Several of their members works were forbidden from public display due to its critical take on religion and the prevailing social and economic order. While amongst their members Nickolai Yaroshenko is the only one known to have direct ties to the revolutionary movement of the period, there is clearly much sympathy given to those struggling under the yoke of Tsarist absolutism. Revolutionary though such sympathies were, they were not aligned with the various strains of internationalists that would eventually overthrow the regime in 1917. These were Slavophiles that were profoundly influenced by Belinisky and Chernyshevsky and sought to work within the Russian tradition rather then the Western European one to achieve a regeneration of the social and economic decay they witnessed in their daily lives.

The exhibition itself was segmented into several sections – work, religion, politics, landscapes and portraits. While it would clearly be a mistake to make hard and fast separations between these categories as it relates to anything – the curators of this exhibit did a good job in their groupings.

The opening painting was “Barge-Haulers on the Volga” by Ilya Repin, which was of a size equal to the conceptual weight of the painting. Ten men are connected to a rope that they are using to haul a boat near the shore harbor so that its goods may be unloaded and exchanged with others. Alone amongst all of the peasants “freed” from their connection to the land is a youth, wearing a reddish tinged rags who alone looks forward and upward as if to a brighter tomorrow. Whether or not this coloration is meant to allude to republican or a radical is not clear, however what is clear is the suffering on the faces of all those around him. Faces are sunken in and dirty. Bodies are emaciated. I found this particularly interesting as a week prior to my trip here I finished The Prophet Unarmed the second part of Issac Deutcher’s biography of Leon Trotsky that goes into deep detail as to the conditions of the Russian serfs and working class prior to and after the Revolution.

Another painting of note was Illarion Pryanishnikov’s “Jokers – The Gostiny Dor in Moscow” not only because it is thematically linked to Dostoyevsky’s novella A Nasty Story but also as it illustrates one of the dynamics of wealth inequality that is still decried today. The painting is of a group of rich merchants forcing one of their employees to dance in a degrading manner, a scene repeated in a different context in Mysteries by Knut Hamsun. This taking advantage of the total financial dependence on their employees by forcing them to do degrading acts in order to keep their employment is nothing new and is visible in the scandal surrounding Republican presidential candidate Herman Caine.

One of the most amusing works of the exhibition was the “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks”. Despite their conservative role in modern day Russia, ever since reading Nikola Gogol’s novella Taras Bulba I’ve found them to be a fascinating social group. In this painting, which was at its time paid the highest price by the Tsar, a group of warriors that have had treaty terms brought to them are sitting around and laughing while writing an insulting letter. The nationalistic sentiment clearly visible in this painting shows that in addition to the progressive tendencies there is still recourse to use mythic situations to instill nationalistic sentiments via recourse to nationalisms. This clear divergence from the Stalinist aesthetics of internationalism informed by economic categorizations, not then usable as such totalitarian aesthetics had yet to be formed and enforced, explains why it was that such paintings later again became classified as undisplayable.

A work that was dealing with the religious elements that were affecting Russian development at the time was Konstantin Savitsky’s “Meeting the Icon”. Here a crowd of villagers converges excitedly on a carriage, from which a miracle-working icon has appeared. The throng of kneeling peasants are well kempt, the men respectfully attired, the women in colorful clothes that are their “Sunday best”. They show a range of expressive emotions in reaction to the icon – piety, apprehension, confusion and devotion. Understandable as at this time the Western medicines were making their ways into the common knowledge and such notions that an icon could heal people was offensive. An example of this growing shift is evident in Turgenev’s novel, Fathers and Sons. The treatment in this painting contains a strong vein of ridicule as we can see that the priest emerging from the carriage is doing so with great effort as he is quite rotund. It is so difficult that he needs an assistant to do so. By contrasting his large size with that of the much slimmer peasants we can detect a critical note alluding to the parasitism of the clergy in pre-revolutionary Russia.

At this exhibit I also got to see Nickolai Ge’s iconic barefoot painting of Leo Tolstoy, as well as the picture of a student returning from prison that is on the cover of the Oxford World Classics version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. A portrait of a female student, at the time deemed subversive as it showed a woman outside of the role of household laborer traditionally ascribed to her, and Valentin Serov’s “Portrait of the Artist Issak Levitan” were also particularly arresting for their style. For this to catch my interest I knew to be special as portraiture has never been a style that attracted me.

I write all of these details about these Russian painters as a type of corrective. Due to their association with the sentiments that found shape in the Russian revolution their work has been largely overshadowed by a Cold War mentality that more positive valuated French works dealing with similar themes. These works, the narrative goes, had some sort of barbaric or atavistic elements in them that led to Bolshevism, which was never as intellectually or culturally refined as their French ruling class counterparts. Such logic is of course intellectually and historically void, yet continues in many areas to this day despite the warmed atmosphere that has relaxed international tensions somewhat. Foregoing this holdover from the 90’s, we can come to appreciate the masterpieces produced by individual Russian artists and those collected under the umbrella term Peredvizhniki.

After looking through here and a small collection of French paintings from the 18th and 19th century, Josselyn and I skipped the whole first floor of this museum as neither of us find modern functional to be exceptionally compelling and we wanted to go to the Modern Museum before it closed.

At MMS there was a special exhibit on Turner, Monet and Cy Twobly. The showing was organized thematically and placed together works that were “in conversation” with each other. I place “in conversation” in quotations as I find it hard to attribute explicit references to other paintings outside of the artists avowed intentions considering the enormous body of art which exists in the world and the limited number of subjects possible. Such “conversations” are more of a signifying game. Such games have value by making the works themselves take on additional values that are potentially worth discussing. However when a curator claims that a particular abstract work by an artist has a direct, allusive relationship to an Impressionist painting that was made one hundred years before I’m reluctant to take such claims seriously.

That caveat in place, I must admit that I was impressed by the selections and “conversation” presented at MMS One instance of a particularly well-done themeotype was a selection highlighting melancholy. A Turner painting set in Florence, absent any of the motorboats then just starting to make their appearance on the waterway, was placed next to one of the same setting by Monet which was also lacking modern machines.

With this absence of present technology, Turner seems to see this new invention as intruding upon and ruining the peaceful waterways that were for hundreds of years navigated by hand and wind. He is melancholic for simpler times. Monet completed his painting after several months of not working following the death of his second wife shortly after a long stay in Venice. He appears to be melancholic for the time that he shared with his beloved wife. While the type of melancholy informing these two paintings is clearly not equivalent, the two side by side did indeed inform each other well and was touching.

Some of my favorite paintings here, were Turner’s work dealing with the sublime. Images of immanent shipwrecks with people on the beach ready to make a living by salvaging the debris and a dangerous ocean filled with craggy rocks has a disturbing yet wonderful effect on the viewer – hence its categorization as the sublime. There is little need for me to comment on these two masters as unlike the Peredvizhniki they have universal recognition and as continued comment on other conversational combinations of paintings could lead to a short book so I’ll not go into detail about it. That said I wanted to comment on Cy Twobly’s inclusion and one of his works, specifically his painting entitled Orpheus.

This work I found to be like so much of the post-modern art, aesthetically alienating on the basis of its nihilistic embrace of vitalism. On a huge mostly white canvas on the middle left side was inscribed the name Orpheus, and above it was Greek and Roman words that were covered by a flesh colored paint that allowed some of the shapes to be legible. Put into a sentence, the significance of the painting is that in these modern and supposedly mythless times it is impossible to depict Orpheus. The abandonment of easily recognizable figures and their replacement with traces intended to be explicated by a cultural elite is indicative of Twobly’s work and the general turn towards abstract art. It’s the logical conclusion of reacting to the trends in the art world market following the conceptualization of the type of social realism embraced by the Peredvizhniki with socialism or tendencies sympathetic to it. This position against meta-narratives and replacement with subjectivist epistemology is premature and the valorization of such obscurantianism compounds this error. When reflection on Gods has left our minds, people are confronted with the realization that it is humanity’s history and accomplishment to which is now turned to for inspiration. Yet Twobly would take this away from us as well by deeming it mythological thinking. While I respect the right of artists to create as they see fit, I find the lionization of abstract forms like this as high art to be out of line with the personally and socially emancipatory aspects of human creativity. The abyss is something to be built upon, not embraced as the finality of development.

In addition to the Turner, Monet and Twobly exhibit the museum also had an excellent collection of photography on display. Some of my favorite photographers such as Capa, Koudelka, Witkin, Cartier-Bresson, were displayed on the walls and there was also dozens of books with prints of the photos. After we finished looking at the former we decided to leave.

The next day we took the train a few kilometers north of the city proper is Millesgarden. Millesgarden was the home of sculptor Karl Milles and his wife Olga, who was a photographer. Now that they are deceased, their home and garden is open daily for people to visit the hundred or so statues there. Just like at the Swedish Palace, the repeated allusions to classical Greek mythology in Milles work surprised me and amusingly enough two of statues were of Orpheus and Eurydice. Despite my attraction to public monument and sculptures I didn’t find most of them to be particularly compelling. Visiting as we did in the winter, the fountains that operate in the summer and spring were not operating, removing the functional and aesthetic elements out of several of the statues. It didn’t ruin the experience, but I would have preferred to see them in their proper context.

Inside of the house on was a logia containing classical Roman statues and pieces. One of the rooms containing these pieces was filled with lemon trees, which was a pleasant addition as it evoked the open Roman villas that once displayed such works.

In the Millesgarden temporary exhibit was a large selection of works of glass partially created by artists who don’t typically use glass. I say partially created as these artists were the instructors of the glassblowers, who followed their directions. I wasn’t particularly taken by any of the works, with the exception of a glass crown of thorns.

After this we went to Fotografiska. I was very excited to go as I’d seen advertisements for a special exhibition featuring works selected by Anton Corbijn, however upon walking through ice-cold rain we discovered that they would not be viewable until the next day. After having taken so long to get there, Josselyn and I decided to go in regardless.

Our stay here was rather short as minus the main exhibition hall there were only three other small exhibits consisting of a total of 10 rooms given to three artists. One photographer I disliked so much I won’t even comment or give her name while the others were photos by Ron Haviv and Aitor Ortiz. The thirty or so pictures by Haviv were taken in Haiti following the January 12th, 2010 earthquake. It was moving journalistic photography but would have benefitted from more information related to the rescue effort and the world economic situation that has made Haiti so vulnerable to human and natural disaster.

The Ortiz exhibit was interesting. I particularly liked the way in which the darkness of the room combined with the tight lighting of the pictures to give the exhibition an meditative ambiance. However the Photoshop altered pictures which were illuminated were not as apocalyptic as suggested by the art historian Fransisco Javier San Martin. In fact, I heartily disagree with his interpretation of Ortiz’s works as presented on the information cards adjacent to the pictures. In one card I read: “The decay of the structures in these works is evident and can be interpreted as an allegory of Western economic decline.” Even an intellectually adolescent group like OWS recognizes that it is not the whole of the economy that is suffering from the current economic downturn but only segments of it. This erasure of class, history and humans from the buildings made and the subsequent conceptualization of this as being an art that provides meaningful commentary on the issues currently facing by the developed countries is clearly ridiculous and typical of artists who work are motivated by sentiments rather than social science. This isn’t to say that I didn’t find some of the pieces to be pleasing in appearance – I particularly liked his Amorfosis 004 – however I found that the exhibit would have been preferably if the baroque commentary on the deepness of Ortiz’s use of motion and placement were gone.

After this short trip we walked to the Nobel Museum. Because of the connotations with Alfred Nobel and considering the long history of prestigious people who have received his awards I assumed that The Nobel Museum would be a grand place. This day seemed to be, however, all about my understandings being wrong as first the was no Anton Corbjin exhibit and now I was face with a museum that was not but five very small rooms.

Upon entering I immediately noticed a series of banners moving across he ceiling on what looked like a modified dry cleaning rack. On them were pictures of past winners. On either side of the entrance were computer terminals that allowed the visitor to view the Nobel Prize website – which seemed to me to be a somewhat peculiar aspect of it considering there was nothing site specific about it. After entering there was another row of touch screen computer terminals with information on the decades and winners of the prizes. Once again, that I could simply get this information from the internet in an identical manner I also found upsetting. Josselyn and I sat down in the two rooms playing films though both of them only briefly. The first room that was playing a series of student short films that were connected to the Nobel prize in a manner that escaped me. To be quite honest, though I could see he thematic connection to the material it seemed to me forced and simply a method of occupying space with visuals and seating.

The largest room was a series of panels devoted to Marie Curie and radiation. These focused on the large obstacles she had to overcome as a woman in a field as well as those she had in working in a new field. Most interesting amongst these displays for me was the depictions of the various beauty products that were made from radioactive elements prior to the discovery that they were deadly. The implications that this historical occurrence has for discussions regarding animal testing, state regulation of commercial health and beauty products is of course explicit, as is commentary on the at times dangerous pursuit to achieve beauty. The victims of this included Curie herself as well as thousands of others.

As is evident from my above description I was disappointed that this was the full extent of the museum. I asked the cashier at the gift shop if perhaps there was more on the floor above and he responded that no, above them was the Swedish Academy. He did state that in four years if all went to plan they would finish construction on a large building dedicated solely to a new museum with more exhibit space, however this was of little consolation to me at the moment.

Around this time my foot was also in so much pain from my sprain that we decided to go back to the hotel.  Because of the time of our flight was at 6:30am and we were leaving from Skavsta, we had to wake up very early to get there. Being extremely sensitive to caffeine and having had a coffee at 4 p.m. I didn’t get any sleep before the trip and entered Berlin having been awake for over twenty-four hours straight.

Split, Croatia

November 2005

Falling asleep on a train is like no other sleeping experience. More so than any other form of transport, it matches the bumpy rhythms once felt in the womb and can reward those that give in to their body’s demand for rest a reminder of peace and expectation of a new journey ahead. Or, in a particularly jarring journey, you can wake feeling on edge. From the latter slumber I woke up in my sleeper car to the sounds of gunshots. I quickly sat up and looked outside the window as the first rays of sunlight emerged from the horizon just outside of Split, Croatia. Our route took us past a group of soldiers firing into the air while another plays instruments that couldn’t penetrate the metal sidings of the passenger car. Shortly thereafter, the train conductor came by to check tickets. I asked if he knew the reason for the military processional. He informed me that it was in honor of those that had died in the Balkans War, which ended exactly ten years ago that day. Despite the gravity of the event that ended a decade ago, nothing visible betrayed dolorous sentiments around the station upon our arrival. Based sole on appearances the people present there seemed to already have forgotten past travails and look forward to celebrating that joyful time of the year that brings them a bountiful harvest of fish, fruit, grains and tourist dollars.

Shortly after arriving, I made accommodations for the night an older women that held up a placard saying “Sobe” through a mix of German, English and hand gestures. She took me to her house, gave me a tour of the space I’d be allowed to use and provides me keys and a towel. I took a quick shower, changed and immediately headed to the area around Diocletian’s palace. Once there I slowly ambled my way around marble streets to peruse the various wares that had been set up in a similar fashion around the Cathedral of St. Dominus for hundreds of years. Lined up in stalls that gave the feeling of an outdoor mall there was a mix of counterfeit designer goods and tourist kitsch from China, local crafts, artifacts from historical events and a wide variety of delicious foods. Not looking to weigh down my pack and hungry, I purchased some famed Dalmatian ham and continued to aimlessly wander around as a flâneur throughout Diocletian’s Palace. When I finally made my way up to the Cathedral, I was rewarded by being able to behold a beautiful assortment of religious paintings, sculptures and icons fit for placement in any “proper” museum. In addition to the typical religious arts, there was a large collection of religious relics including the severed fingers, hands, feet and even the heads of saints. While this might seem grotesque, their presentation made it hard not to reflect upon the human condition in a manner wholly different from the church decoration of the Kostnice Ozzuary or the practical use-value evident in the form of the Parisian Catacombs.

Here the decomposed remains of the body was to be seen as proof of divinity. Rather than serving as a reminder to our never-ending proximity to death, the intent of the presentation of these particular bones was to give hope for something sublime and divine now as well as in the hereafter. Thinking upon this caused me to spend more time that usual in such a small gallery and helped me ignore and forgive the bustle of tourists that would inevitable bump into me considering the tight confines. After leaving, I walked to the bell tower adjacent to the church. For a nominal and well-worth it entrance fee I climbed the narrow stairs which terminates with an impressive view of the newer city, the white brick tops of the building nearby, the verdigris domes of several more diminutive churches in the nearby vicinity as well as the azure and golden flecked Mediterranean. From here it appeared as if the color palette of the city was chosen to match the sea. The light blue and whites of the water matched almost all of the roofs and facades of the old city buildings. The wide-open windows of the observation tower that could easily allow the most obese to fall out and the strong wind at that height hinted at danger, but provoked more fear from imagination than actual circumstances.

After I returned to the ground floor, I made my way up Marjan Hill. This is a location able to be appreciated by all due to its beauty. By me it was particularly so due to my interest in history. Specifically, this area was known to be an anti-fascist stronghold from where various attacks against the Nazi’s were planned and staged. Additionally, former Yugoslav president Joseph Tito once used the area as a summer residence. I took in the beauty of the Sustipan cliff and the Marjipan Forrest Park next to it while resting a park bench that overlooked them both and from which the Old City of Split was also visible. After an hour of absorbing the view and writing in my travel journal I left. I took my dinner at a cheap and delicious restaurant just outside of the walls of the old city suggested to me by a barista that had sold me some of the best-tasting börek I’d ever had. After eating inky black squid risotto there, a local specialty, I make my way back down to the area I’d been earlier that day.

The battered but beautiful white marble streets that had earlier reflected the sun in an almost frivolous manner at night took on a whole new set of characteristics. Now the walkway threw off shadows in a variety of directions based upon the shape a particular piece of stone has taken from hundreds of years of people and goods on wheels going across it. While walking I heard coming from the speakers of a bar the music of The Cure.

I entered to discover that they served the locally distilled slivovitz of quality that can’t be found in bottles anywhere else. I soon found myself in a spirited conversation with a group of locals that were planning to take a ferry the next day to Vis. There was a fish and music festival being held there, and would I like to join them? Of course I would! After exchanging our contact information, discussing some places that we wanted to go in the immediate future, sharing some more drinks and many more laughs we left. Rather than take the most immediate way back to a beach-front spot they wanted to share with me, we decided to perambulate the waters edge. We passed through a circular stone building is hundreds of years old: the Temple of Jupiter. From inside the streetlights, which had obscured the night outside, ceased to reign. Our discussion stopped its jovial tenor. As we looked up at the stars and the full moon, we spend several minutes pontificating aloud about sundry deep topics. We dissected mankind and our role within this vast universe of location and meaning, then put everything back in it’s place to continue on our travels. Realizing how far by foot the next place was and wanting to get sleep, I peeled myself from the group and made my way to the sobe.

I slept well, ate a sufficient breakfast, dropped some instant coffee into the hot water my host brought me then said farewell. I encountered the group I’d met and we took a ferry to Vis, where a steady stream of natives had been making there way since the six in the morning. The joyousness of the upcoming festival on the island seemingly infected the ship. People were already drinking from bottles in bags and a single person starting to sing soon had everyone there joined in. I’ve travelled extensively all over the world and have yet to witness anything like it. At least two hundred smiling faces singing together without planning! Amazing! On the ride over I befriended a group of fellow travellers from Ireland, Hungary, Canada.

Upon arrival we took a bus to the other side of the island. As soon as the doors opened I could smell the roasting anchovies being given out for free in dark brown fish paper rolled up into cones as if they were for Belgian fried potatoes. It’s not just in this carvinalesque atmosphere that camaraderie between a group of strangers can be formed, but certainly us being all in a place new to us helped. Much like the European pilgrimages of old described by Chaucer, we shared stories in praise of life late into the night in the square are between the small shops and docks. Later, however, we followed a group of people trekking a few kilometers away to a beach party. I was worried about leaving my backpack unguarded on the beach, but it’s so many others did as well that my worries were diminished. The DJ’s played deep and hard house as we danced atop the rocky beach. Towards the end of the night I got into a discussion with a burly locals who expressed some upset at the fact that I would soon be going to Serbia, the wounds I’d thought healed over did, in fact still exist and told me that as it’d be impossible now to find accommodation that it’d be best to sleep on the beach. This is precisely what we did. After a few hours of rest I woke to a beautiful view that the dark had kept from me. Hiking back into town for food and transportation, I then made my with the international coterie of travellers I’d befriended back to Split and from there took a bus to Dubrovnik.


Josselyn and I arrived into Edinburg late Friday night. During all of our previous explorations that the two of us have gone out, I’d been in charge of knowing where we were going and how to get there as due to the extensive time I’ve spent navigating strange cities as well as my old home of New York I’ve gained a internal compass, a strong sense of direction and a keen location memory. This trip however, Josselyn was determined to prove herself equally capable and prior to our departure from Barcelona researched the directions to the hotels we would be staying at and writing down the addresses of those we wanted to visit afterwards so she could get GPS directions as need be. After checking in we were hungry and wandered nearby to get some food. The streets were mostly empty except for the people making their way out of the closing bars and all the restaurants we walked past were closed except for a late night kebab and fried fish shop with walls plastered with club promotions for New Years parties and concert venue announcements. I ordered the typical British dish of fish minus the chips, add lettuce and a tomato topped with a garlic sauce on a bun, making it a delicious sandwich, and Josselyn ordered a veggie burger. We ate this inside while drunk-people of varying ages, speech capabilities and levels of aggression came in and out to get food and pass the time by harassing the workers for speaking English with an immigrants intonation and grammar.

The next day we woke up early to go on a tour of the midlands with Hairy Coo tours. We met at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, named after the infamous historical person for whom Robert Louis Stevenson found the inspiration to write Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and from there were given a fantastic tour by Donald. The already beautiful scenery and human constructions was made richer by his knowledge of Scottish social and geographic history. His self-effacing humor was even able to turn the most grave and tragic of historical stories into lighthearted moments. We first stopped first at the largest metal bridge, made to showcase the financial power of the burgeoning Scottish bourgeoisie. Following this we went to several others stops, including one of Scotland’s William Wallace monument. Here Donald went into the historical details about the real William Wallace, who was the son of a wealthy lowland aristocrat and not a dirty highland nobody as depicted in Braveheart.

Following this we stopped by two castles, one of which that was used in the Monty Python film “The Holy Grail”. Outside of the connection to the film, the castle had nothing particularly special about it, though Josselyn and I did have fun while walking around the castle and banging together a pair of coconuts. The most beautiful part of the tour for me was the various Trossachs lochs that we stopped by and drove past. One particular loch is famous for being the setting of Sir Walter Scott’s poem The Lady of the Lake and it is understandable why this is so – it’s breathtakingly gorgeous. This particular region is widely associated with the faerie folk and has connected to it the story of a priest who apparently started to learn and talk too much about them and so was spirited away by them. While the story is false, it is true that this region is unlike anything that I’ve seen in Western Europe before. Donald explained that the reason for Scotland’s geographical peculiarity stems from that fact that it was once a separate volcanic island with a geological history vastly different from that of England so as they collided with each other it formed a large number of distinct attributes.

As Donald spoke about Scottish tourism and its relation to the Romantic literary movement in Britain he explained that it was originally conceived of as a pleasure formulated to counterbalance the anxiety ridden daily life during the nascent days of industrial in England. Anyone familiar with William Blake’s famous descriptions of black churches or any of the Romantic writers of the late 18th century who were a witness to these changes in the capital intensity of manufacturing can understand why visiting an area of nature untouched by capitalism would be appealing. As someone that has extensively read the British Romantics, and indeed was named after Percy Bysshe Shelley, I was thrilled to be here. Though there is clear evidence that market considerations and operations are existent in the countryside, the wilderness still appears to be mostly left to the developments of nature and in the villages most of the businesses are locally owned, operated and seem only concerned with continuing to exist as they are. During a break at one of these little towns, Josselyn and I had lunch at a restaurant wholly stocked by locally grown produce and fishers. Josselyn’s squid was delicious and the halibut that I had was by far the best I’d ever eaten. Our last stop was to see a hairy coo, which means hairy cow in American or British English. The cow-like animals that were once a sign of wealth in the region in the same way camels still are in parts of Egypt. As we drove back, Donald recounted several humorous stories about his life and played music by The Pretenders.

After we got back to the city we walked aimlessly for a bit. Josselyn and I were both hungry and when we get like this we have trouble making decisions on what to do. We eventually decided to get something to nosh on at “The Last Drop” pub, so named for it’s being next to the former site of the Grassmarket gallows, before going on a ghost tour. Tradition and storytelling ghost tours define the old city of Edinburg in a way that I’ve not seen in other places. Guided narratives which recount place-location history is typical, but in Edinburg I noticed that more so than in any other place I’ve been many companies rely less upon important historical occurrences than upon old stories of for-profit killing (Burke and Hare), the unusual (Deacon Brody), revenge or the grotesque (Half-Hanged Maggie) to provide anecdotes for those wishing to get insight into where they are visiting. This is not to say that there are not those tours available, but a brief walk down Royal Mile and you’ll see the posters for several different guided ghost tours. One of the reasons for this stems from the amount of medieval and mid-gothic architecture that compose the old city and the proximity of protected cemeteries which give it a spooky vibe. After having visited Edinburg and Porto, Portugal I understand why J. K. Rowling describes Hogwarts and the magical world architecture of Harry Potter as she does. The city does get very creepy at night and a wrong turn can literally take you from a semi-modern street to something that feels is in the 16th century. Regardless, after this rather uninspired twenty-minute “tour”, we walked around the downtown area for a bit, popping in and out of places like the Three Graces and The Hive before returning to the hotel.

In the morning we woke early to make sure that we were able to connect with yet another Sandeman’s walking tour. We got breakfast in a café within sight of the meeting point and met an American from California who, like myself, had recently completed their Masters degree and was now working abroad with their significant other.

We went a graveyard where Scottish patriots were tortured to death. The site, called the Poltergeist, is supposed to be one of the most documented haunting sites ever and is interesting to unbelievers like myself as it shows the horrible cruelties inflicted upon patriots and thinkers ahead of their time.

Visible from inside the graveyard is the school which is supposed to have inspired the description of Hogwarts as well as several dead people whose name is the same or very similar to those found in Harry Potter. I mention Harry Potter because, of course, this is the city that Rowling wrote some of her first books. Following the cemetery we passed the café wherein she wrote her first book and at the close of the tour the guide presented us with a history of Scottish nationalism in relation to the rock upon which early kings were crowned.

After the tour we walked into the National Gallery. It was small, but free and had several good paintings and comfortable seating so we could rest for a bit before going on the last tour of the day. In fact it was here that I’ve seen one of the few 19th century portraits of an attractive aristocratic young woman. Seeing it immediately made me recall how the Vikings used to take most attractive women they found on raids as war brides and how in Scottish writer Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting, Sick Boy says that the only attractive women in Scotland are tourists. I realize that this sounds weird as I write this – but it made sense at the time. We continued to look around the museum for a while then went to the Canonsgate Kirkyard as I wanted to see the grave of Adam Smith. It was a good idea, however due night falling in Edinburg around 4pm here we weren’t able to find it. We looked around for quite a while then went back to the area around the statue of Adam Smith on Royal Mile to get food before going on a Underground and Ghost Story tour with Mercat Tours.

Our guide took us around to various parts of the city around Royal Mile telling us of the various crimes, punishments and strange happenings that occurred in the place we were standing on at that moment. In narratives that reminded me very much of the opening of Foucault’s “Crime and Punishment” and several of the scenes in Peter Linebaugh’s “The London Hanged”, our guide detailed what would happen to the body of the condemned following the courts verdict of guilt. The storytelling was  engaging and we ended our tour up by entering an old underground cellar and work area that was abandoned with the development of the new city and is of course now “possessed” by various ghosts. I don’t believe in ghosts, but as Josselyn does she was rather frightened. Knowing this I furtively threw a small rock in the room our guide claimed was possessed by a little boy. This evoked a scream from her and a series of apologies after she realized that she was the only person scared by the sound. Following this we went to a live Rhythm and Blues bar to watch a live performance and then to a Latin club to go dancing.

Despite the long night we had we woke up early the next day to visit several places that had we’d chosen beforehand. We got on the bus early in order to go to Gilmerton, a small town about 35 minutes from Edinburg. Josselyn found a cove there that was supposedly a must view when in Edinburg, however the doors were locked when we got there. We waited a few minutes and knocked heartily, but no one came. After this we went back to the city and started walking our way up to the Castle.

We went into the Writer’s Museum, which had special displays for Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Raleigh. While I find the development of literature and the historical novel to be interesting – hence my appreciation of Lukacs – and the scandalous and peculiar lives of creatives to be intriguing – hence my love of Henry Miller – the actual desiderata of their daily lives makes for poor presentation in a museum as in such a setting they appear so dull and ordinary. While there was pipes which originally belonged to the authors, locks of hair, pens, and other trinkets the more interesting aspects about their personal lives cannot be sufficiently displayed as writers be definition achieve their fame by making something intended for reading and a place wherein books are available to study about a person in depth is not a museum but a library.

After snacking we took a bus a little outside the Old Town in order to hike up Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic rock formation adjacent to the Queen’s Palace at the end of Royal Mile. There was no seat on top and the site has nothing to do with King Arthur, however there was a beautiful view of Edinburg well worth the effort it takes to climb up. After this we viewed the Queen’s Palace and then returned to the hotel to pick up our stuff and catch our flight to Stockholm.

Plugs for former Profs!

Maia Ramnath, my former professor, NYU thesis advisor and author of Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire has recently had her second book Decolonizing Anarchism: An Antiauthoritarian History of India’s Liberation Struggle (Anarchist Interventions) published by AK Press. I wish I could say more, but I won’t be reviewing books until I’m back in the United States.

Another former professor of mine that has his book going through the academic reading circuit to generate publication buzz for it right now is Slavoj Žižek’s
Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. A friend of mine that has already read it and is also a Hegelian scholar has reviewed it positively. Though it is not on sale right now, you can pre-order from Amazon for a significant discount.