Europe Journals – Part I

Europe Journals
Tim Donlan

Part I

Prelude – Out to Sea
9/5/04

In the morning, shuffle my bare feet across rough asphalt down to
the beach. It’s a blustery gray day, and the sky and sea is
desaturated, as if the color has been sucked out. The horizon is
a mundane line where the curve of the earth hides vast stretches
of the abyss, beckoning.

I dip into the water, letting the waves pull me south and out.
The wind is brisk, biting into the swells like countless teeth,
dimpling the salty crests.

And the morning sun, filtered through the ill-defined clouds,
latches onto those dimples, sparkling like a million untouchable
diamonds.

I drift like a dead buoy, the dirty sand and silk bruising
against me in playful pushes, thousand ton tugs. And in that
mindless, colorless morning, I remember.

The other day I had a lucid dream. A dream not only filled with
astonishing clarity, but the central sole beautiful ability of
consciousness. Most dreams are movie theaters under the influence
– untouchable images and visions rolling past on the 35mm reel of
the mind.

But a lucid dream is different. Instead of watching a dreamscape
through the fixed lens of unconscious, I was the director and
actor. The setting wasn’t completely mine; I couldn’t teleport at
will. But I could talk, walk, move, feel, look, touch.

I remember arcing through a bustling city street in the back of a
taxi, some smooth skinned young thing in my lap. Of course I
groped and prodded. My lips battled her red wet smile, and her
skin was supple silk under my fingers.

And then I remember being shirtless in a gray room, jaws clenched
in some forgotten fury. On the wall was a frosty mirror, and I
had the conscious wish to walk over to it, look at myself.

Of course, the clouded mirror was appropriate. In ordinary
dreams, recognition of a person is instantaneous. Features and
faces are not defined in perfect clarity. And yet, when I saw my
face in that clouded mirror, it indeed was my face. At the same,
it was the face of another. Some deep-seated childlike confusion
with reflection must have been unearthed.

It’s no great secret that recognition is easier
than recall. I assume that axiom holds true in facial recognition
as well. The fact I could not draw a picture perfect image of my
face in the lucid dream illustrates this well. Facial memory is
probably a lossy algorithm; this facilitates speed and meaning,
which are far more vital to the human mind than bulk image
storage. Perhaps data storage of images other than text, should
keep this philosophy in mind. Text is by definition abstract, so
information processing is a default attribute. 3D and 2D images,
coded in binary, share none of these attributes. If semantic
qualities could be given to images, a semantic language could be
designed for image manipulation.

…The semantic engine of our minds – such a blissful thought.
Organic Turing machines churning on a windy overcast day,
wallowing in the surf. Moving by impulse and biochemical demand,
as innocent and blameless as the seafoam bubbles, prisming the
sunlight like rainbow oil slicks, pushed by the wind across the
flat, gray expanse of the wet shore.


Amsterdam
9/9/04When I stepped off my plane at Schipol Airport, in Amsterdam, I
was a complete newbie. I walked around the terminal for a good
hour wasting time, looking into various shops, withdrawing a few
hundred euros, before I grew the balls to go up and ask the blond
Dutch lady how to get to Amsterdam. Mastering public
transportation can be tough initially, but after the first day I
was a pro.If you were to draw a rough map of Amsterdam, it might as well
look like this:

But at least it’s fun to get lost in. Amsterdam favors natural
motifs, creating streets in elliptical orbits, with quaint
bridges spanning the encircling canals, like the spokes of a bike
wheel. There are charming windy brick passageways between narrow
four story houses, the occasional hoary iron gilded behemoth from
the golden Dutch past. Lazy canals, moss lined and swamp like,
and numerous troll guarded bridges. Small, narrow alleyways
teeming with shops.


Beaming girls with streaming blonde hair and sharp cheekbones,
gliding along crowded bike paths.

Coffee shops are dark bars where travelers roll joints and listen
to music, bathed in a hazy earthy aroma.

In the Red Light District, red neon squares form prison cells,
with a girl in question for sale. It’s window-shopping for
whores. Catering to all fetishes and styles, there are California
beach bunnies, European trash sluts, black hoochie mamas and
lithe Filipinos that look to be fourteen. Surprisingly, the Red
Light District isn’t all that big, and can be hard to run into if
you’re just out for a stroll.

My Hostel, Hotel Anna Marie is very much like a dorm, with
laughing rowdy kids abusing chemicals. The owner is the
friendliest guy you could imagine, fixing breakfast, answering
questions, and even rolling you a joint.

As much as cultures change, guys going out to drink beers and
watch sports is consistent. I did this the other night with an
American, a Canadian, two Brits and an Aussie. I think one of my
Australian roommates tripped on shrooms two nights in a row; he
was sleeping and moaning in his bed for 12 hours straight.


When I walk through the streets, glaring at my reflection in
the store windows, this young American tourist, I think about
culture. I think about the countless small things, the
differences, and where they come from. Is Europe more logical
than what I’m used to? How does European culture affect the local
mindset, the worldview of its citizens?For example, take transportation. Like many cities, the streets
are often chocked full with deadlocked cars, inching and jerking
along, blaring horns and radios, smog belching trucks, and
swarming pedestrians. This is certainly true of Amsterdam.

However, the streets are split into lanes for cars, trams and
bikes. Pedestrians get separate crossing lanes from bikes or cars
or trams. I would estimate a large percentage of the locals use
bikes to get around. This covers all demographics; from
businessmen with suit coattails swinging behind, to high school
and college age kids, woman shopping, and of course those
stunning blondes.

The learning curve to adjust to these things is quite small, and
by days end you wonder why the hell isn’t there anything so
genius back in the States. What the hell is the reason? Is
America deficient? Heartless?

An English guy named Andy remarked that America was the most
wasteful country on Earth. I couldn’t disagree, only precipitate
the mental imagery to clenched-jaw fruition. I kept visualizing
cut scenes from old John Wayne movies, WWII propaganda, Hellfire
Christian ministers and commander in chief George W., clad in
boots, a big hat and twirling his chrome six shooter. We’re the
rowdy straight-line cowboys of the world. And while the
Netherlands is friendly, organized, clean, fun and above all
rational, I can’t help but think this leads to a kind of blissful
apathy. Only through constant pressure can progress continue.
What kind of progress though? You have to wonder what
“progress” and “world superpower” mean. A
work ethic, booming industry, and the power to subjugate lesser
peoples. Yeehaw.

I plan to head to France tomorrow, taking a long train ride
south. Hopefully I can reach Josh by Monday on the French
Riviera.


On the Move
9/11/04
Today (this fateful date) was trains, endless parallel iron
bars running across the countryside. The great thing about trains
is that they go from point A to B quickly and cheaply. The bad
thing is if you screw up, there’s a huge margin of error. Today
demonstrated that terribly.I caught the train from Amsterdam to Paris. However, I missed the
first connection and then the next train was late, throwing off
the schedule by nearly two hours.

The Dutch and northern French countryside is very peaceful, with
smooth rolling hills and cookie cutter plots of wheat and corn.
In the distance are stacked blocks of simplistic masonry centered
about a dark Baroque church or a crumbling medieval tower of
bleached stone. A few windmills turn silently, waving bright
flags.

Here, the sky is vast, with multi-tiered cloud formations
towering in cataclysmic luminosity, like the breath of God
against a cold backlit window.

It was dark and gloomy when I reached Paris. I really had no clue
where my hostel was, but I figured it was in Belleville, since
that was where the smudged postage-stamp sized map said on the
computer printout.

I asked a pretty girl at an info counter which train to
Belleville. ’21’ she said. ‘Merci’, I muttered, shouldering my
sagging pack. Whether through ignorance or malice, that girl
sealed my fate. Little did I know this would be a big mistake, a
one way ride on a train of doom!

I looked at the pathetic map in the train car, without any
orientation, of a place I’ve never been and a language I don’t
understand. It did say it went to Belle, though. Perhaps it was
close to Belleville? I thought. Wrong!

I figured I’d take the first exit and look at a map; see if I was
going the right way. My trepidation started to build when the
train hadn’t stopped in ten minutes. With lingering dread at
twenty minutes. At thirty, I was just a resigned poor soul,
knowing it was very doubtful I’d reach my hostel. It was now
approaching eleven. I got off and stumbled with language, trying
to find out if there was another train to Paris tonight.
“Non” the lady jibbers with a glazed look, her face
devoid of any concern. No taxi. No Bus. No Hotel.

So I’m stuck in a dark North Paris suburb of Persan-Beaumont,
with no place to stay, no one around. I have a forty-pound pack
on my back, so conspicuously out of place it hurts. It seems
Europe mostly shuts down at eleven, except in tourist trap
locales like the Red Light District. I stand at the platform for
a few minutes, pondering my course.

Staring north into the blackness of an abandoned train station,
it comes like a horrific nightmare. A dirty brown locomotive,
trailing behind jagged cars of petroleum. It is colorless in the
haze, a monochromatic master, traveling fast enough to melt the
tracks, horrible metal corners and wheels cutting the air apart.
And then it is past, a vacuum in its wake, screaming into the
night.

I walk through town like some explorer or solider, no knowing
what I’m gonna do but contented to do something. Eventually I
find a map, rotate myself towards a large green rhombus, and lean
into the shoulder straps. Robespierre Park.

There’s a group of young guys sitting around a picnic table in
the corner of the park, jabbering on. They begin to shout
nonsense at me, and because I’m completely ignorant, I feel no
social qualms just to wave my hand and keep walking, feigning
deaf ears.

The park is dark, with a pond and stream sheltered by big mature
trees. They put out quite a canopy, so the back of the park where
I make my camp is shrouded in shadow. Out from under the trees, a
splendid night sky is doing battle against the city of lights,
winning. More stars than in Atlanta, the air must be considerable
less carcinogenic and smog filled.

A chill wind ripples across the pond and through the billowing
tons of leaves above, sounding like rushing rain. But thankfully
the sky is clear, save a single wispy cloud trail snaking across
the constellations like a set piece for Les Miserables. I keep
thinking of a black-cloaked Jack the Ripper character, stalking
through the trees, to pierce me with fear before slicing my
throat.

Perhaps that’s why this was a defining moment, something to
write about. Rather than the amused stoner smiles, weaving
through carnal canals of Amsterdam – it is a night shivering
outside in a park under the stars. I began to think about it a
while ago – a well-spent life isn’t about being happy all the
time. It’s about living through adventure. It’s about being able
to adapt, triumph and flourish.

The opposing thought chains dance around and motifs are exposed:

History, Horror, Humanity, Heroism.

This isn’t a trip about having a really fun time. It’s about
groking the wide world, and in turn, groking oneself.

In the morning, I wake up sprawled on dewy grass. I get up, piss
against one of the giant trees, then trudge back to the station.
I didn’t have to pay for a hostel, and the only scars from the
ordeal are a few dirt stains on my fleece and cargos. I write in
my journal on the train ride, all the way into Paris.

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