Vacationing in ovens

Because most of summer was spent gentrifying our kolonistuga — forcing spiders to move out of the house by redecorating — there was neither much money nor time to plan any vacationing outside of Gothenburg. So the trip to Poland at the end of summer was going to be a “working holiday” before fall-work would start. Sara was doing lights for Goat, and one of the tour stops was OFF Festival outside Katowice. I was enrolled to document the show, so figured I’d visit dad in Warsaw before heading down south.

The whole trip went off without a hitch; not so much as a train delay during the whole week! Incredible, really, but it turns out that when you book hotels through one of those “meta-reservations” websites, those reservations are real things! The times we live in, I tell you it’s magic. (Spying and commercial magic, but still magic!)

I spend a couple of days with dad and his family in Warsaw, and then leave for Krakow where I meet up with Sara. The weather is broken: It’s silly hot, the papers talk about a record with 38°C, and most of the days are spent jumping from shadow to shadow, pressing cold drinks againsts sweaty bodies. It did not help.

We stay at Cafe Młynek, and I’m in playing at “spoiled vegan” by stuffing my face with latkes. We drink water, walk, chill out in the contemporary art museum in their “chill-out” lounge until a grumpy lady chases us out because we’re too chilled-out. (Polish service-mindedness has never been a particularly prominent trait, but it’s still surprising how assholish people are — “the service industry” is an euphemism for something completely different in Poland.) And then we walk some more, consider doing bungie jumping but end up too hung over to bungie anything.

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Once we’re in Katowice we get our passes to the festival and start to get acquainted with the setup. It’s the most controlled event I’ve been at in Poland, and certainly the most tightly controlled festival. You drink thither, you listen to music hither, should you take drink from thither to hither you will be fined 100 Euros. The only accepted currency are either 2.5 zloty paper tokens, or 50 zl prepaid Mastercards. And there’s no easy way to find out how much credit you have left on your card, so you end up holding up the food queues while going through the four cards in your pocket, trying to guess which one had 5 zloty left and which one had the remaining 2.5 zloty. And for this money you could only buy Grolsch beer, as they were one of the main sponsors. Happily, you were free to wear any shoes you wanted, despite the Converse sponsorship and event-tent.

We watched some of the obligatory big acts, and most of them were meh, with Smashing Pumpkins leading the pack by a stunning illustration of “phoning it in.” Goat got a great reception and I got some good pictures. Piotr Kurek and Metz were nice, and along with Mikky Blanco there were plenty of smaller acts which were fun to hear. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure if anything stick out particularly, and there’s nothing new from the festival that found it’s way onto my music player, but the whole event was enjoyable in a responsible, adult way. Also, I found these vegan cheese doodles which were just awesome.

Only setback of the trip was that Air Berlin has misplaced Saras luggage on the way down, and in order to stay in character they misplaced both our luggage on the way home. Once we got the stuff back a week later it was soaking wet — apparently they store lost luggage in a pool of stagnant water — and what wasn’t ruined was moldy and had to be washed. The vegan snacks had survived though, so one week after homecoming I could sit back, gorge on doodles, and reminisce about an excellent trip back to the home country.

Sharm Charm

I don’t know how the gene has survived in the Swedish climate, but Sara claims to be unable to function without a trip to warmer, brighter countries in the winter. You’d think that this trait would have been mercilessly bread out of anyone foolish enough to settle this far up north, but perhaps it’s combined with some other, more useful genetic features which make up the Sara, and have survived that way. Either way, she booked a charter to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, and brought me along for a January excursion.

My previous forays into charter tourism have been a mixed bag — n.b. The Tunisian Experiment — but this trip was a whole other thing: My ambition was to eat houmous, swim a bit and perhaps read a book or two. Sara had been there before, so even though she mostly wanted to counteract the effects of Swedish mole-like existence, there were some ambitions as to activities: Snorkeling, eating fish, walking in the mountains.

We’re on the flight: The stewardess goes to check, returning with “yes, unfortunately penut-butter sandwiches are out of the question because of the allergies.” So we spend the five hour flight very hungry, doing the most of our chewing gum and water. Back in the flight crew cabin, Sara spots stewardesses eating the Snickers bars they’d withdrawn from sale because of the allergic person, which does nothing to improve our mood. Once we’re through customs we’re enjoying the mushy white peanut-banana infused bread, palm treas silhuetted against the setting sun, and soon are on our way to the hotel. It’s warm-isch, bright and we’re not in cold dark Sweden anymore, which fulfilles the first objective of the trip.

We’re travelling with unspecified quarters, so when the guide mentions that our hotel “isn’t exactly a five-star resort” we understand it as a promise of a broken faucet and bats in the closets. No such thing though; hotel Regal is well kept and in the old part of town (“old” being a relative term, since there’s almost no building older than 30 years) which suits us well — according to Sara it’s calmer and more cosy than the newer areas, and the “old market” is relatively close by.

There’s only us and a family with kids getting out at hotel Regal, which doubles the hotel occupancy. Out of the eighty or so rooms only a handful are in use, and so when we open our ground floor back door there’s a still pool and a closed bar outside. No sound interrupts the evening call to prayers.

Luggage is dumped onto beds, bathroom lights are turned on and off three-four times, and then we head out to eat. We don’t even get out of the courtyard before someone stops us, and within minutes we’re in the office of Manta Ray divers and Ramez is showing us his diving videos and describing the available tours. I hadn’t been under water since I took my PADI license three years previously and hoped to get a chance to see all the corals and marine life that people rave about — the most exotic thing I’ve seen diving in Sweden are two pissed off crabs, fighting — and we were suggested that a day-trip would also allow Sara to try an assisted dive.

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With half-hearted and hunger-driven commitments of discussing the matter and getting back to him, we’re heading out to find food. Sara vaguely remembers a restaurant from last time she was here, and we’re soon heading downtown. Soon we’re in the Fares fish restaurant. It’s bustling, very bright, overstaffed, but the selection is big and the food plentiful; With a few exception this would set a routine for our stay, as Fares was one of the easiest places to navigate as a vegan – there’s plenty of houmous and baba ganoush and garlicky veggies. Not considered “main course material,” they’re dirt cheap, so I felt bad for getting the salad buffet each time and overtipped and bought unnecessary side dishes. Sara had all manner of evil foods and enjoyed deep fried, steamed and whatnotted marine life which I’m sure had a loving parent or thousand now orphaned offspring. Two missions accomplished and it’s only the first day. We’re off to a good start.

We go for a coffee, play some board games, and I try to get as much milage out of “la shukran” as possible in my interactions with the old market sellers. A couple of days later I also learn the hand gesture for “no thank you” which simplifies the process of turning down the taxis which badger you at every opportunity. Perhaps my Polish heritage instructs how I like my shop keepers — bitter and resentful — but I don’t see the value of shop owners assailing you and short of dragging you into their store. I understand that it must work or they wouldn’t do it, but I’m not sure what the mechanism is by which it works; certainly doesn’t with me.

More depressing is that some of the shop keepers — who without exception are male — take the opportunity when fitting a scarf to paw Sara. Far from everyone did this, but it was common enough to be depressing. As a tourist you’re a transient biped with cultural baggage, requirements and a wallet, and so are not afforded as much consideration as a real person, but it’s still sad when you greet people suspicious if they also are gonna rub their dick in your back accidentally for five minutes while grinning like an idiot.

And again, what the hell are you going to do about it? Huff and puff and storm off? You’re not making structural change, and not changing the mind of whoever wronged you. Trying to shame them, calling police or security? Sure, but how long will that take, what will you get out of it, and are you sure it would work? In the end, you flag the place and move on, perhaps write a blog post about it. This does make you appreciate more those men who sell you things who are actually nice and don’t grope you. I wonder if that’s a Yelp-review sticker they’d put in their window: “5 Stars! didn’t touch my butt once! ☆☆☆☆☆!”

Cars in Sharm El-Sheik suffer from tourrettes, but you pretty soon get used to the constant honking. “Driving” is better defined as “accelerating” while breaking is probably considered optional, as are headlights, even after dark. You soon learn to run across roads and never to assume that a driver regards you as more than a messy speed bump. The thirty centimeter curb which you thought was sloppy workmanship the first few times you saw it, turns out to be your well designed friend. Sucks if you’re in a wheelchair, but the cars can’t get at you easily.

We settle into a pleasant routine. Food at Fares or from the friendly falafel shop across the street (Later, Ramez the diver was incredulous. “You’ve eaten there and didn’t get horribly sick?!”) and swimming at by the lighthouse beach. We meet people who greet us first in Russian, then English, Turkish, Polish. Not enough Swedish tourists to merit learning that language. There’s plenty of racism all around, and Russians are the most numerous and most despised, viewed as angry drunk morons. In Fares — a non-alcoholic chain, as are many in Sharm — we saw a head waiter being berated for telling the party of ten that they weren’t allowed to drink their vodka at the table. The women looked put-upon but expensively dressed, the kids oblivious and fat, the men thick-necked and hostile — had you painted a more stereotypical image of a Russian family you’d have to add a babushka.

We bought a day trip with Manta Divers and with Ramez as instructor, and Sara did her first, and then second, assisted dive. I dove alongside them, and the corals and the fish and the clear water was ridiculously beautiful. I’ve become so over-sensitised by all grand imagery in movies and pictures that when I come across something similar in real life it feels fake. The first few times I saw the coral reefs while snorkeling I was laughing through the tube — it felt like a very immersive Disney cartoon. Diving among the corals added the bonus sensation of potentially maiming the local ecosphere by an uncontrolled descent, but I managed to stay clear of murder by adjusting the BCD once a second… The other bonus feeling was swimming out over the land shelf, and having nothing but a drop into darkness below me — it’s like a suspended fall into forever and ever.

For the remaining days, we’re swimming by the beach and drinking Turkish coffee — hot water poured over ground beans — eating at Fares, drining beer at the branded beer pub, or shopping fabrics and tobacco. Sara got a “very good price just for you” from the guy she bought from last visit, but in the end I spot the same leaf at the airport for half the price. The airport has the largest smoking lounge I’ve seen, and also a “Real British Pub” with probably the most atrocious service imaginable — checked-in people at airports are the most captivated clients short of prisoners — and as a moral support for my poor stomach which had had one Fares-dinner too many (my quota of houmous for 2013 is used up) I hazared a beer and some god-awful chips. Apart from a gurgling sound, and a constant feer of shitting myself while asleep on the plane, it was a content and browner Mateusz who landed in Gothenburg.

Number of Goats!

A while back there we went to a concert at Henriksberg, and and one of the acts was a young band playing psychadelic rock. I remember commenting that if that’s the next big thing in music, I won’t like it, no Sir. Dubstep is done, overly sensitive singer-songwriters even more so, and indie-rock shoegazing types were penned and shot behind the shed. But somewhere in a tie-dyed recess of my heart, there was something funky going on, and once Sara told me that she’d been asked to do light for the Swedish band Goat and played it for me, I was humming along — it feels natural to listen to this now. Listening to Goat, i become sheep.

It was a great gig, and even though you can’t tell from my crappy video below, it sounded and looked good. I’ve ordered some stuff to allow for better sound recording (because I love you all so much that I will give of me my only begotten dollar) and promise to use manual focus next time around.

Only bad thing about the event was the prowling security — unless Storan is haunted by fights breaking out there was no reason to be so zealous in the walking and posing and the pouncing on anyone who stumbled. On the few occasions that I’ve been at the door of a party, as soon as you start posturing and taking yourself or your uniform too seriously, people are provoked and it increases tension. So the mood was at times unpleasant.

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You can find more info on GOAT on on their blogspot account — — and the opening band SONSON have both a tumblr and soundcloud. Djungeltrumman put up some images from the event, and if you actually want to see something of the concert you might want to head over there.

Christmas travel, Sheikh travel

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Christmas was spent in Stockholm, mostly at my moms or her partners place, until they took of for Florida. New this year is that Sara and Tura tagged along, and my brother once again proved his worth in child-entertainer gold. Since Kungsängen is a space-out zone and I revert into a teenage sloth when in its proximity, I didn’t even get to record much video. This is the excuse for not showing the exchange of gifts or stuffing of faces with foods, in the video above. I do beg your pardon.

I bought Sara lightbulbs for Christmas, she bought us a trip to Sharm el Sheikh — Seems a fair trade. So now we’re hoping that we won’t get sick (well, sicker) so that I can get a refresher diving course and Sara can snorkel to her hearts delight. Last time I had a chance to SCUBA was in Hawaii and I got a perfectly timed cold which precluded anything more vigorous than walking, and it would suck whaleballs if that happened again. So I’m eating vitamins and drinking my required glass of red wine a day — even being ambitious and overdoing it a bit, just to be sure.

It looks as though New Years Eve is spent at least partially at our place, which is a great motivator for tidying the place up; one more example of how my priorities have gone all pear- and bourgeois-shaped lately. No, but seriously, it’s gonna be fun. Really, I’m looking forward to having people over leaving popcorn in the dip, spritzer in my keyboard and the bookshelf de-alphabetized. Happy New Years!

Neck ring, choices and responsibilities

Mu Hwit said she had discarded her neck rings not only because they would hinder her chances of studying abroad but also because she was “unhappy” at being a low-paid tourist attraction.

→ The Irrawaddi, Lawi Peng: Padaung Women are Discarding their Neck Rings

It plopped into the toilet and sat there till I scooped it out into an empty hummus container. I poked at it with the end of a plastic spoon. Turned it over. It was so small, this thing that loomed so large. I was too tired to be upset. I was just happy the pain had stopped.

→ The Rumpus, Martha Bayne: Knocked over: On biology, magical thinking and choice. [via metafilter]

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Writing on writing Benjamin

A while back Daniel Josefsson of The Immaterial asked me to do a writeup of a project or an idea, and he suggested that I’d expound on the video project How to write like Walter Benjamin i did back in 2009-2010. I finally got around to writing the short essay, and it’s now up his blog.

Link to The Immaterial: Let me explain how to write like Walter Benjamin

Edit 2021.07: As The Immaterial seems defunct, I’m posting my essay here instead. I’m clearing up the text a bit, adding quotes and such where needed.

Let me explain how to write like Walter Benjamin

A while back I transcribed Walter Benjamin’s seminal 1936 essay The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction by hand. I recorded it in real-time and published it on my blog and elsewhere to be used as an introduction to writing art theory. It was titled How to write like Walter Benjamin. The whole series spans 18 episodes, and makes for about 13 hours of video. I don’t know that anyone has seen the whole thing.

Hindsight is a mixed bag when it comes to explaining ones earlier motivations, so I won’t try to explain how I came up with the idea or why I thought it was worth to carry through. But the two years that have passed since, make a dispassionate analysis easier and I think I can see three ways to read the work — not mutually exclusive — which present it as a stop along a path rather than the final destination.

Perhaps it’s telling that the version of the essay that I used for the project was chosen based on accessibility — It’s certainly something which Benjamin might have found interesting — and you don’t get much more convenient than Wikipedia, where I found the original link to the essay transcribed by Andy Blunden.

As a preamble to the explanations below, let’s agree that doing no research at all on a text before embarking on a two month long art project — one of the core tenets of which is the bearing of authenticity on an artwork — is lazy in a stupid way. Benjamin is throughout the text concerned with how the “aura” of an actor is lost in the translation from stage to film, while my approach is to not even bother to check if the actors are switched out in the middle of the movie and their voices dubbed over.

With that in mind, let me offer three readings of How to write like Walter Benjamin:

First as humour

When it comes to artists doing theory or framing themselves within an academic discourse, it’s easy to point to the Post-modern essay generator and have a laugh at the convoluted language, never-ending name-dropping, and the discourse by way of apophenia that is too often accepted for publication. But there are texts which actually say something about the state of the world or how we perceive it, and Benjamin’s is one of them. Therefore, everyone aspiring to write coherent, well-understood and reasoned art theory would do well to mimic his style and reasoning. And what better way than to transcribe it whole cloth?

Above all other considerations, the first thing, which strikes me about the project, is the deadpan seriousness of both the pretence and the execution. On the face of it, it’s an instructional video much like any other you might find on Youtube or Vimeo, made by someone who takes their work seriously and has already accepted the framework of what they are offering as legitimate. There is no question in our presenters mind that what he is offering is a reasonable approach to learning how to write art theory.

The instructor conflates the two meanings of “writer” (as in “author” and someone who sets letters to paper) and sees himself as setting an example by showing you that he’s actually “writing” the text, and to emphasise that it’s “writing” and not “copying,” he’s doing it by hand no less!

It’s not meant to be a parody of actual theory instructions or criticisms; it’s much more fun to view it as a documentation of an absurdist performance than a pisstake on the teaching of art theory to artists. Repeat a sentence enough times and the repetition takes on a meaning of itself, be it for humorous effect, as a means to extinguish meaning as in Alvin Luciers “I’m sitting in a room” or to make technology visible, as in Patrick Lidells take on Luciers original.

Perhaps the monotonous instructions can persuade you for at least a moment and actually say — yeah, this might totally be a thing I could do. That would be fun.

Secondly, we can perhaps use this work to try the premise of Benjamin’s work — to see what happens with the aura of the text, or of him as writer, when someone else writes it verbatim.

One would have to assume that a text itself has aura, which is not something Benjamin mentions in the essay. The absence of references to classical literature in his analysis allows us to speculate freely — surely there is an aura of authenticity in a book, or does it merely exist in the act of writing? If it only exists in the act, how then understand the following quote, on the role of the author:

“Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer.”

Walter Benjamin (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

This observation, combined with the assumption of the act of writing as being the moment where “aura” can be understood, would leave us with an understanding that any writing could be understood as containing more aura, more authenticity, than any printed — mass reproduced — book might convey.

Perhaps it’s here that our instructor can be found — someone writing for the sake of the aura which writing bestows on him.

Should we assume the obverse, that the text itself is a “medium-free” object, having a self-contained aura or authenticity quite apart from it’s means of dissemination, we would need to give reason to the special status of text which sets it’s “aural worth” apart from other works of art.

By his own words, text might almost take the place of a natural phenomena — perhaps one might assume “thinking on paper” — when he categorically says of aura that:

“In the case of the art object, a most sensitive nucleus —namely, its authenticity —is interfered with whereas no natural object is vulnerable on that score.”

Walter Benjamin (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

In Borges short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, he describes how the eponymous writer word by word rewrites parts of Don Quixote, but “[…]doesn’t contemplate a mechanical transcription of the original: he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide — word for word and line for line — with those of Miquel de Cervantes.” Menard goes on to write parts of the original text, but even though the resulting text is exactly the same, Borges comments that it has different qualities, which sets it apart from the “original.”

In Borges, a writer on the edge, Beatriz Sarlo focuses on what Borges is actually suggesting in the somewhat absurdist description of Menards works, and writes that:

The process of enunciation modifies any statement. As a study of linguistics in the twentieth century has emphasised, this principle destroys and at the same time guarantees originality as a paradoxical value which is related to the ‘enunciation’: it comes from the activity of writing and reading, not tied to words but to words in a context.”

And this understanding of context is much the same as what Benjamin writes about an object of art having a certain position within society based on the societal norms.

“It is significant that the existence of the work of art with reference to its aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function. […] This ritualistic basis, however remote, is still recognizable as secularized ritual even in the most profane forms of the cult of beauty.”

Walter Benjamin (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

If aura is created in the ritual of thinking on paper — writing — we confer aura when writing; but if reading is a creative endeavour, one where our approach and understanding of the text and the conditions under which it was created shape its meaning, the ritual we celebrate is the creative one, and each moment we reflect is a moment of creation. In this latter interpretation, an art object is imbued with aura at the time of “consumption” (viewing, listening, reading, etc.) rather than at the time of creation. I.e. we can’t help but to be creators of aura most all of the time.

Or as Benjamin somewhat dramatically puts it:

“This image makes it easy to comprehend the social bases of the contemporary decay of the aura. It rests on two circumstances, both of which are related to the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life. Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. […] To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction.”

Walter Benjamin (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Thirdly, it’s a presentation of art production as drudgery.

One way of reading the work is as a metaphor for what artistic work is, or could be, or ought to be understood as. The western celebration of the individual as a “free agent” in combination with the lingering societal understanding of an artist as a “free spirit,” has built a cherished altar for the gods of creativity. Coupled with a competitive scene comprising millions and millions of creators of all strand, each vying for attention, novelty takes the lead.

If Benjamin complained about print transforming us all to writers, I would lament that global communications and the eyeball business-models are promoting the “barely-unconventional,” and this has found willing adherents among artists who in this approach actually find a metric by which they can justify themselves as “useful.”

The more mundane and boring we can make art, the more we will provoke a discussion on why we do it, and under what conditions it’s most valuable to us. Ten years ago I had a notion that it would be interesting to cover a full grown pine tree with potato peelings — branch by branch, carefully minding the needles and peeling it all by hand — for no other reason than as a gesture of futility and human defiance in the face of death meaning. As art works go it wasn’t much of an idea, but the sense of doing art work has stuck, and there’s a sense that if I only put in my dues, I’ll actually be an artist, and will in the process be judged on the merits of what role I have in society rather than the novelty of my work.

That is, if I do more boring art, perhaps people might leave me alone.

On shopping and eating futures

When life gives you lemons, you pump lemonade options and dump them on someone else.

At least that’s my takeaway from some of the “investment tips” I’m reading right now. I’m having a conflicted time reading about personal finances, pension plans, insurance and stock investments: Despite myself it seems like an interesting challenge, sort of like an IRL ARG with clear goals but flexible routes. At the same time I’m reading books like “Collapse — Life at the end of civilisation” by David Jonstad (In Swedish: Kollaps — Livet vid civilisationens slut) and think of buying pasteurised foods and gold instead.

The book does a good job of setting up a comparison between our civilisation and older ones, as well as the (most probable) conditions under which it collapsed. David is certainly not the first one to do this comparison, and there are millenarians and doomsayers in every age, but since he’s not pulling mayan calendars out of his ass but is actually looking at what is upholding our culture (“cheap energy”) and how this is threatened (“peak everything, climate change, political incentive to keep status quo”) it’s a fascinating read. It’s as if it takes some of the arguments from Jared Diamonds “Guns, germs and steel” and speculates where they will lead us.

With one eye I’m looking to do mid-term investments with what little savings I have, and with the other I’m looking to learn how to live of the grid and boobytrap my supply of potable water and cans of beans. And with a more tranquil third eye — perhaps the denial eye — I’m finding the below consumerist video hilarious: Sara had put in a late night auction offer online and is freaking out because she really doesn’t want to win the credenza.

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Vacation revisited: Poland

So, just the other day when I and Sara got back from our two week vacation in Poland, I thought I’d put up a short post with a video of the trip. No less than one and a half month later, here it is! We flew to Warsaw, stayed with my dads family there, then off to Kraków, Sanok, Polańczyk and then home by way of Warsaw again.

There are many “firsts” with Sara, and travelling with a girlfriend through my childhood vacation memories was another, very pleasant, one. As a kid I relied on being led, fed and amused by parents and other adults, and now an adult myself (34 being the age at which you’re no longer considered a teenager in Sweden) and sort of responsible for navigating for the two of us, it’s both empowering and odd having to make sense of buss tables and booking hotels. I’m not used to it, is what I mean to say, but it all went well with nary a fuckup.

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Polish food was a hit, and Kraków had some good local cousine in vegan variety as well. As a rule, I am weary of the places which marked themselves as “vegan fusion” as too often you’ll get soulless food modelled on what the chef imagined would look the most holistic with little regard for taste. Culinarily I don’t approve of being lumped together with people who wear their chakra on their sleave, so once we found Café Młynek, with their potato pancakes and breakfast platter, I overate catastrophically once and overspend the other times we ate there.

Even though not vegan, the remaining milk bars in Poland are as campy and wonderful as I remember them, and both pierogi and żurek were things I promised Sara we’d learn how to make once we got home.

A feature which I don’t recall from childhood were all the arachnids; The whole country was covered by spiders, big spiders, and from Warsaw to Polańczyk we kept taking pictures with our fingers perilously close for measurement. Perhaps they were to thank for the utter lack of mosquitos, but if I’d have had a phobia the whole trip would’ve been a nightmare. I don’t kid, there were spiders hiding behind the spiders even.

In Sanok, my city of birth, we stayed with my aunt Barbara. She got one of her friends to guide us by car through the countryside to show some of the more interesting Eastern Orthodox churches left, and the oldest one we saw was also the most spectacular, or at least it’s location; it was a good ten minute climb to get up there, and just imagining how people hundred years ago would have had to make the trek up there in the dark of winter for christmas mass, or on any rainy Sunday, painted a very vivid image.

Beksiński also had the good taste of being born in Sanok, and we visited the new wing of the museum dedicated to the works donated after his murder. For the first time I also spent some time with the orthodox icons and iconostasis at display, learning the difference between Hodigitrian and Eleusan icons of Mary and the child Christ.

Along with the museum, a lot of the infrastructure has been improved in the city. The main square has been dolled up, and each evening we’d see wedding photographers shooting one bridal couple after another by the colourful fountains and lit façades.

We visited Polańczyk for one night and it was far less lively than it used to be. Perhaps it was a question of timing, or perhaps the small village at the foot of the Carpathians has seen a shift towards family vacationing, but bars started closing around eleven. We stayed in one of the multi-storied sanitaria which were the original tourist trade, and what ten years ago was slightly warmed over communist brutalism, now had been restored into something between kitch and living museum. They are sanataria in the classic sense, offering a multitude of treatments, diets, analyses and soothing walks in the forest. One of them even offered cryotherapy chamber therapy, which means you spend a couple of minutes in a room at -150°C. It’s supposed to have rejuvenating qualities, but unfortunately they only do it once a day and we were too late to join the group.

The sanatoria are immensely popular, and while we were trying to get a room walking in off the street, one of the places had no vacancies for the next six months. So I’m proposing to get a bunch of people together next summer, book a two week stint at one of these sanatoria, and freeze our balls off in the beautiful Carpathians.

My first vacation as an adult went swimmingly. Now that I know that I can do it, I want to go again.

Image search, revisited

Over at I stumbled over the project Google. The work, created by Ben West and Felix Heyes, is based on taking 21000 common English words and parse them through Google image search, and then printing it all and binding it.

Quote from the website:

“Conceptually it’s whatever you make of it,” writes Ben. The sad reality of shrinking attention spans, collective media fatigue or how an expert reference book is no match for the convenience of Google, for example. “It’s really an unfiltered, uncritical record of the state of human culture in 2012,” concludes Ben. So, how are we faring? “I would estimate about half of the book is revolting medical photos, porn, racism or bad cartoons.”

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The second video above is from a work I did at Valand back in 2006: The uncontested order of things: A slideshow curated by google. It’s in the same vein, although it used the letters of the alphabet to search for images. I downloaded the top 40 or so pictures of every letter, picked one at random and arranged them alphabetically in the video. The idea being pretty similar to Ben and Felix — how is our language and concept of images shaped by that which we take for granted or don’t reflect over.

In the introduction to the work I wrote:

The motivation for this process, of which the resulting slideshow is but one possible combination (let alone one possible way to present the combinations) is:
1) To see how many apparently random images we can fit into a narrative, and
2) Given the omnipresence of google, how easily received/understood/accepted the images are when
3) A qualitative analysis of the images (and search results in general) shows an (apparently) unproportional US/EU presence, which in turn should
4) Kick us in the nuts for too easily accepting the perceived “freedom of the internet”, and not reflecting enough on what our online behavior tells of ourselves, but also what actual and very manifest power we are supporting by our actions.

Which actually still holds I think. Google is as omnipresent as it’s ever been, and apart from occasionally switching to Duck Duck Go as my main search engine, I don’t actively thing about how I navigate the Internet as much as I used to, or how that shapes our collective understanding of what the world looks like.

Math: A tangent, derived. Malmö

I’ve finally signed up for math-class, and am struggling with the “Matematik C” curriculum. I need it to get into any course related to computers or natural sciences, but I’m not putting near enough effort into it. It’s been fifteen years since I last took math, and back then my antipathy to math was so strong I was actively trying to forget what little I learned.

Actually, the course is officially over but I’ve asked for a month extension to allow me to catch up, so we’ll see how that’ll go. I need to do the test the 18th at the latest to be sure that my uni application for fall goes through, but this requires a couple of hours of daily practice. And I’m out of practice.

I might be doing the same mistake I did when studying philosophy, assuming that as long as you put your mind to it you ought to be able to figure things out from first principles. So you start with an intuitive understanding of 1+1 and build on that. But at this level math is mostly about learning by rote, and because I’ve been out to the loop for so long, half the time I don’t even know what problem I’m tasked with answering. “Describe a function” is not an invitation to write an essay, but something with an actual answer, and as always when you’re learning something new, the glossary seems arbitrary and made up by a stupid-poopy-head.

The TI-82 graphing calculator Zenobia lent me has a 150 page manual, and having been spoiled by GUIs for so long it feels as if I’m learning Dwarf Fortress. But it’s fun in a PRESS SHIFT+Ln+min/max way and I’m scouring the second hand market for a calculator of my own. SMBC sums up my findings quite well so far.

On the upside, I designed and printed my own graphing paper, and had it bound. Each page has different colours, and the paper is watermarked and really nice to write on using the extra soft pencil leds I found in the third store I asked. My priorities are not what they ought to be, but at least my notebook is perty.

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As a small vacation, I and Sara took a weekend in Malmö. I haven’t spent much time there, so we had three days walking about, taking pictures of her old haunts and apartments, gorging ourselves on vegan cake and whatnots. Nice city, and it would have been even better if we’d gotten ourselves bikes. Speaking of which, the Malmö initiative Cykelköket has a branch in Göteborg. They seem nice!