Face The Sun: Let There Be Light!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of its author, and are not in any way meant to reflect the opinions or policies of the US Government.

Past Travelogues.

Finland, Estonia, Petersburg

Kirovograd, Ukraine


Tirana, Albania

Macedonia & Romania

Budapest to Bucharest

Balkans and Poland.

Christiania, Copenhagen.

Northern Norway

Northern Finland


Kashgar, briefly

More to come, Inshallah, as I go through old paper travel journals.

The DC experience, archived.

July '05
June '05
December '05
October '04
More to come should interesting things happen to me. Ever.

Blatent Plagiarism

The nation's largest chain bookstore has indicated that, due to lack of consumer interest, it has stopped selling books.
--Frederick Raphael, The Glittering Prizes

I feel this is the equivalent of a surgeon, skipping through a radiology department singing, 'I don't have cancer, I don't have cancer!'
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

Mum is crying with her faced turned away from me, gulping and honking like an injured seal. And I'm rolled up in the back seat wishing the old man would stop the car and make her walk. That or buy her a fish.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

I love it when well-educated women sweaar -- the words regain their original power and meaning when delivered unexpectedly with so much poise.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

She lived with her mother, who looked like an old labrador, and an old labrador.
--Will Self, Great Apes

When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God sitting on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

...In the frank brilliance of the bright sun, which, as we all know, is the friend of heroes.
--Jose Saramago, All the Names

He stuttered so badly that you could go out and buy yourself a chocolate bar while he was wrestling with an initial p or b; he would never try to bypass the obstacle by switching to a synonym, and when the explosion finally did occur, it convulsed his whole frame and sprayed the interlocutor with triumphant saliva.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

To Stand on Jericho's Walls and Face the Sun.

Monday, May 31, 2004

I have been sucked into the Vortex that is Hungary, completely unable to leave. That said, my train to Romania leaves in t-minus 3 hours, and you can bet your ass that I'll be on it. Theoretically.

That said, it's FINALLY warm and sunny in Budapest, and how can I possibly be convinced to leave now that the weather is so damn nice? I ask you.

Posted by Dakota on 7:13 AM link |

Friday, May 28, 2004

I certainly hope you're happy, SCS.

Posted by Dakota on 9:49 AM link |
Are there things to discuss? Most definitely. But for now, know this:

1. I have never been so happy to be on my own again. The more I think about it, the more it's true. Consider this:

I am not willing to date republicans. Hell, I'm not even willing to SLEEP WITH a republican. No matter how beautiful. If I'm approached my someone in a bar, and it comes up (as it always does, quickly, since we're all ferocious democrats) that the individual to whom I'm speaking is a republican, then the conversation is quite simply over. Period. I have no desire to kid myself into thinking that there might be ANY common ground there to speak of.

Thus: it is intensely annoying to be related to the most die-hard of die-hard republicans. Particularly those who cannot discuss politics without losing their temper and shouting at me.

It makes me chuckle that my parents fall within that ridiculous percentage of Americans who think that Saddam was linked to Al-Qaeda.

2. Tomorrow: Romaniaward.

3. I have just been informed that in Central Vienna, there's an ESPERANTO MUSEUM. And I MISSED it!! I can't even discuss: this might be worth backtracking for.

(Jes, jes, mi estas esperantisto, kai mi amas forte Esperantan Musea-aun (the concept of an Esperanto Museum, if you will-- taking museo, dropping the o to an (adjectival) and then tagging on the 'difficult to explain idea' ending of 'au' end ending both the adjective and the concept with n, since of course, it's so very accusative. Honestly, I'm in love with L.L. Zamenhof, and the world needs to get a good jump on catching up on this little language).

Posted by Dakota on 9:41 AM link |
Inhale. Exhale. Solitude.

Posted by Dakota on 9:41 AM link |

Sunday, May 16, 2004

It's pouring rain in Hercegovina.

I seriously love this country. I think I covered this in my last post, but I just really wasn't expecting mountains. I had no preconceived notions whatsoever, and that really helps when you're coming in to a place.

I had no preconceived notions about Albania or Kosovo, either, but I met an American in Mostar, Hercegovnia, last night, who showed me some of his pictures. Not what I was expecting, but still looking forward to it.

I leave Bosnia this evening to head back to Hungary by necessity, to meet my parents. Do I speak Hungarian? Marginally. But: I've been thinking about this for quite some time, and I am a firm believer in the fact that if you want to be functional-- base level functional-- in a language, as a traveller, then you've only got to learn about 200 words.

Essentials. Peripherals.

I finally made the list. And I think it's complete. It's right at about 200 words, and it covers almost everything you could need, on a VERY surface level. And it's divided neatly into the above mentioned topics-- essentials (toilet. thank you. hello), and peripherals (verbal paradigms in present tense, possessives, case forms and functions (being uber-peripheral but still worth mentioning), and etc).

I can't STAND phrase books. I HATE them. They're invariably so chock-full of sheer ridiculousness, things that you would NEVER say or have need to say, that it makes them impossible to use. But if you study the essentials and peripherals, then you're not learning phrases. You're learning FUNCTIONAL speech, with none of the bullshit that crops up so often in phrasebooks. Example: on page ONE of my phrasebook (well, technically it's page 14, but page one after the intro and pronunciation guide), page one contains the phrase 'No, I disagree.' Now, come on. If you're cribbing it with a phrasebook, there's no damn chance that you speak enough hungarian to understand someone enough to be able to NEED the phrase 'No, I disagree.' It's freakin' ridiculous. The word for 'toilet' doesn't appear until page 48. 48! There are TWO WORDS that anyone who's travelling uses CONSTANTLY. Those are: Toilet, and water. Rarely a day goes by that you don't need both. Thanks and hello and please should be the first three words in any book. Period. 'I disagree' should be reserved for chapter 15 of a serious lexicogrammatical textbook.

Phrasebooks. Peh.

The more I think about this, the more it appeals to me. I divided the words into 9 categories (fundamentals, getting what you want, getting there, etc), and will, as soon as I'm done with trains and planes and moving for a bit, be putting these into an excel table and beginning the process of adding and subtracting the peripherals, making sure I know the nuts and bolts.

Screw the locative case system: we're going base level. I'm aware of it, yes, I understand it, completely, same with vowel harmony and definite and indefinite verbal paradigms, but that's so damn unnecessary. Functional.

Will it be correct? Sometimes. Will it be understood? Always. Point. Counterpoint.

Anyhow. /rant, as the hip kids are saying these days.

Hungaryward. More from me as events unfold.

Bosnian food, in related news, has given me some serious Bosnian heartburn. Meat wrapped in pastry and baked for hours is delicious. That said, it's also crushing me.

Posted by Dakota on 7:43 AM link |

Friday, May 14, 2004

Sarajevo is incredible. I mean, honestly.

It's also one of the least photogenic cities I've ever been in. Can't take a good picture here to save my life, and you can't find a single postcard that's not hideous.

That said: I mean, spectacular. Although, one gets tired of staring at the ground when walking, on the basis that land mines could be anywhere. Anywhere.

I aks you: is there anything more terrifying than landmines? I mean, honestly. If you step on one, and it DOESN'T kill you, then you've GOT to remain conscious. Or else you bleed to death, before you can get the tourniquet on.

I feel like we've discussed this before. But still. Terrifying. Pavement all the way, baby.

Tomorrow: Hercegovina-ward. Until then, the best of days.

Posted by Dakota on 9:31 AM link |

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Back in Krakow, heading Budapestward. I feel like I gave Poland short shrift in that last email, and I'd like to go ahead and say: I love everything about Poland. Seriously. I would totally consider living here. Also, in addition to being a fantastically nice country to look at, the Poles would give you the short off their back and want nothing in exchange for it. And furthermore, these people have a love of all things deep fried that nearly equals mine, and THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is quite a statement.

Posted by Dakota on 7:55 AM link |

Saturday, May 08, 2004

I mentioned it in my last post, but if you're looking to kill some time at work, I would HIGHLY recommend you visit the website of the Portuguese professional photographer I met in Vilnius. It's his own personal photo world tour. The English on the site is comprehensible but by no means perfect, but he's an INCREDIBLE guy, and I sincerely think that he's quite a gifted artist and his photos are worth looking at.

Posted by Dakota on 12:37 PM link |
So I finally got around to sending my missive on Christiania, the hippie commune in Denmark. It could almost undoubtedly have used some serious editing, but it took about 6 hours to write and I really can't stand to look at the thing any more.

This is just a quick email to say:

1. Yeah, sorry about the wordiness in that last email. Hooboy is it long. I mean, wow.

2. Thanks to everyone who's sent emails in the past few weeks to ask: hey, where are you? Are you dead? I'm not dead. I'm in Poland. I'm about six countries behind in writing emails, so I'll just go ahead and give the following recap and then consider myself caught up.

Estonia-Finland-Norway-Finland-Estonia. As expected and previously covered in emails.

Estonia-Latvia. Riga, Latvia has everything that one could possibly want in a european city: cobblestone streets, cafes, cheap bars and nightlife, bookstores everywhere, cathedrals, historic buildings. And I hated everything about it. I've never felt so unsafe in a city in my entire life. The people were bracingly unfriendly, impatient with me for not speaking latvian but completely unwilling (or even outright hostile) at the idea of speaking russian, even though we had no other means of communicating and I made it clear that I'm a not Russian and have no ties to the Communists. I was thrilled to get the hell out of there. I was tempted to force myself to stay until I felt like I had found SOME redeeming feature, but I ran into some people I met in Estonia, and they felt exactly the same way, making me feel completely justified.

Latvia-Lithuania. Vilnius, Lithuania is one of the most bracingly pleasant cities I've ever been in. It has the largest old-town in all of Europe, huge plazas, incredibly friendly people and everything, as a bonus, is completely cheap. I had planned to stay two or three days; I stayed nine. There's a castle 50 kilometers outside of the city, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an outdoor cafe, and everything there is wonderful.

200 Kilometers north of vilnius is a city named Siauliai (pronounce that as the english words show-lay), wherein lies the Hill of Crosses, which is unlike any place I've ever been. IT's a sacred hill, and the lithuanians have blanketed with hundreds of thousands of crosses. They're memorials to people who have died or were deported, for good luck, or just for devotion in general. I'll eventually get around to posting pictures, but they really don't do it justice. And shortly outside of there, I was attacked by a vicious terrier approximately the size of a football, whom I strongly considered punting but refrained from only because his owner was watching me.

In Vilnius I met a portugeuse professional photographer named Tiago (see his website at www.photoworldtour.com) who told me about Christiania and its imminent demise. Since it would've been far too predicatble and economical to just take the bus to poland, I went to the port town of Klaipeda in Lithuania and took a boat to sweden.

Lithuania-Sweden: Crossed into sweden and saw something I'd never experienced before: the guy in line in front of me at customs was denied entry by customs. ("You were in Austria, yes?" "Umm, no?" "There is a problem with the police in Austria. You must return to the embassy in Vilnius and clear it up with them. You are not welcome in Sweden.") It made me nervous (Am I welcome in Sweden? Please?), but I've never been arrested in Austria so I got through with no problems. (He actually said 'Welcome to Sweden' when he stamped my passport, so THAT little question was cleared up).

Sweden-Denmark. Stayed in Sweden for about 4 hours (southern sweden is simultaneously adorable and completely out of budget) before catching the train to Denmark. Something about my face says to drunks everywhere that I'd be great to talk to, so I spent half an hour before the train came talking to a hammered swede who tried to overcome our language barrier by raising the volume of his voice. I was pleased to get away from him.

Denmark: see previous email on Christiania, which was the sole purpose of my visit. Copenhagen, though, is an incredible city. The danes are the most consistently beautiful people I've ever seen. They're all tall, they're all blond, the women are all shapely and the men are all strong. I saw a woman who would've been a supermodel in the states, walking with her husband who would've been an underwear model in the states, pushing a baby that would've been featured on gerber bottles in the states. I don't know what they're putting in the water there, but the Danes are surely doing something right that we're doing completely wrong. Also, they’ve got a real fetish for street performers, and hey hey! So do I! So Copenhagen was great. Although, naturally, head-bleedingly expensive.

Denmark-Berlin. Stopped briefly in Germany's capitol because I'd never been there. In short: it's intimidatingly large.

Berlin-Czech Republic. Took the bus to prague. Prague is one of the most spectacular cities in Europe (and, by extension, the world) and that's why it's a shame it's so unpleasant to be in Prague. Seriously. It's overrun with tourists, who outnumber the czechs 4 to 1, and the czechs who work in the part of prague that people visit are understandably surly from having to deal with identical-hat-wearing tour-bus tourists all day long.

Took the bus to a city in Eastern Moravia, near the border with Poland, and ended up staying there for 3 days. May Day hit, which is the largest party in all of europe, and I spent the day sitting outside at a cafe next to the stage where there was a free all-day concert, drinking beer and eating pizza and pasta in the 70 degree sunshine. After 12 hours, my waiter gave me a hug because I'd been there so long, and I wobbled home after paying my tab (which for 2 people, 12 hours, and countless beer, was 35 US dollar).

Czech Republic-Poland. Hopped the train to Krakow. Krakow was booked out. Switched hotels 3 times in three nights before getting fed up and going to Warsaw. Found a room in Warsaw but was booted out after one night. Krakow: very pleasant. Great food. Lots of outdoor cafes. Very old buildings, which is rare for Poland, which was leveled during WWII. Overall: thumbs up.

Warsaw: everyone claims to hate Warsaw, which I was prepared to do, since hey, everyone can’t be wrong when they’re concensatory, right? So wrong. I loved Warsaw. I thought it had great character, a fantastic (albeit restored and not original) old town, and tons of things to see and do, and I was massively annoyed at the lack of hotels that forced me to leave in a hurry. But such is life. I wouldn’t mind living in Warsaw some day.

Wroclaw: left Warsaw yesterday for a city named Wroclaw (pronounce that as VROTS-waff), and here I am. Shared a compartment with three 15 year old polish boys (who used moisturizer obsessively, to the point of fighting over the bottle), a gorgeous nun, and two very old people who carried with them an overpowering combination of smells like murphy’s oil soap, cheddar cheese, and just general old-people-smell.

Wroclaw is nice, but I’m looking forward to getting out of Poland, where all the towns are starting to resemble one another; I am, in short, looking forward to getting to parts of Europe that are extremely different than the rest of Europe—Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece. I doubt I’ll have much to report from Hungary unless I happen to be abducted by gypsies (Here’s to hoping).

Speaking of Gypsies, one asked me for money in Krakow, and I gave her some. Then she asked where I was from, and I told her. She heard the word American, spit on my shoe, and shouted ‘Barbarian!’ So, the point of this is, please don’t vote for George Bush again, because he’s making gypsies slobber on my otherwise immaculate boots, and that’s pretty damn unpleasant. I of course returned the insult by shouting ‘Dirty Gypsy!’ at her in Vlax Romani (which just so happens to be the only phrase I know in Vlax Romani, an otherwise useless language, since Gypsies don’t really want to talk to outsiders anyways). She, probably not a speaker of the Vlax dialect of Gypsy anyways, still laughed at my attempt, which was sort of the result I was going for. Sort of.

Right then.

We’ll undoubtedly be in touch more in the future, after hosting my parents in Hungary (I have to teach myself the ENTIRE Hungarian language, STAT) and heading on to Romania (the land of Dracula and donkey carts, two things that are very close to my heart).

Until then, Take care, and we’ll be in touch.

Wroclaw, Western Poland
8 May 2004.

Posted by Dakota on 10:00 AM link |
In the heart of Copenhagen, five minutes walk from the halls of Parliament, there exists one of the last remaining self-governing hippie communes on earth. In two months time, it will most likely cease to exist.

33 years ago, a group of hippies stormed an abandoned Danish military barracks on the island of Christianshavn in central Copenhagen, and formed a commune dedicated to the principles of freedom, art, and the liberal use of hashish. Publicized in hippie publications throughout Europe, the commune at Christiania grew in population to such a degree that all attempts by police to rid the area of squatters ended with no result. The year was 1971.

The following year, the Danish parliament signed a lease with the squatters at Christiania, allowing them self governance in exchange for payment of electricity and water bills, and granting the commune legal status as a 'social experiment.' But the lease on Christiania must be renewed every few years, and the current lease is set to expire on July 1st of this year. Three years ago, the Danes elected an uncharacteristically right-wing government, and it is largely anticipated that Christiania's lease will expire without renewal; the land is
extremely valuable, and the current government is virulently anti-drugs. With the looming disappearance of Christiania in mind, I made the trek to Copenhagen to meet some of the thousand-odd people still living the 60s hippie dream before the government finally shuts it down.

The walk to Christiania leads through the buildings of Parliament and across a handful of bridges that cross the lakes in central Copenhagen. Christiania was originally a haven for hippies who doubled as artists, and on the walk there the standard inner-city graffiti gives
way more and more to expansive wall murals, most of which are either tributes to the dead or correlate in some way to the consumption of hash. The entrance to Christiania is a painted sign in funky hippie script (vivid colors, artistic font) mounted on hand-carved totem poles. Christiania is considerably greener than the rest of Copenhagen, and the entranceway, like much of the area, is ringed with grass and trees.

As one would almost expect of a hippie commune, none of the buildings are painted the same color. The structures are a mixture of run-down 1970s apartment buildings and vintage Burgher houses, and the predominant colors are variations on red and yellow, the official colors of Christiania. The colors were adopted along with the phrase 'Bevar Christiania,' or Long Live Christiania, as part of an earlier campaign to win over the citizens of Copenhagen. Red and yellow, I was told, were chosen simply for being the cheapest ink available when the campaign began., and the words Bevar Christiania appear on stickers plastered over everything (walls, bicycles, telephone poles). The stickers also feature three yellow dots, which represent the dots over the three i's in Christiania. I tried to buy a sticker for the outside of my bag, but the lady in the cart insisted on giving it to me for free.

The entrance to Christiania leads onto the main square, a marketplace that sells the standard hippie handicrafts like incense, hemp clothing, and hash pipes. It's ringed by
stands selling food that correlates to the munchies, like pizza by the slice and falafel
sandwiches. It also sells various tchotchkies like cannabis-themed t-shirts ('Joint the Club: You'll never smoke alone') and doormats that read 'Go Away.' Just off the market is an outdoor bonfire pit surrounded by faux-leather couches that were starting to mildew from the near-constant precipitation. ("Rain," I was told, "is Danish Sunlight").

The most famous area in Christiania is Pusher Street, the main thoroughfare and previous
home of overt open-air hash merchants. In the past few years, police crackdowns have made the dealers go underground, and the building labeled as the Hash Market is closed. Photography is strictly forbidden on Pusher Street (residents feel that photographers are an extension of the police), and the photographer I met who tipped me off to the demise of the commune was attacked there for using his camera.

Pusher Street also has a handful of signs prohibiting the use of hard drugs. Heroin was introduced into Denmark in the mid-1970s, and Christiania was hit hard, becoming a Mecca for junkies. The self-policing commune rallied, providing treatment and detoxification for heroin addicts; those who failed to get clean were given the harshest punishment Christiania has to offer: expulsion from the commune.

Christiania remains free of hard drugs to this day. On the 16th of March of this year, over fifty people were arrested for 'suspicion of connections to hash-dealing.' (Newspaper
reports, under headlines like 'The Police Deserve Thanks,' conflict on the number arrested; claims range between 53 and 69 people). Strip searches, legal in Denmark, were performed, and while a considerable amount of hashish was confiscated, not so much as a single gram of heroin or cocaine was found.

The newspaper headline from my first day in Christiania blazed in huge typeset, 'Making a Million on Pusher Street.' But I met a hash dealer named Tobias, who told me otherwise. "If you're not broke," he said, "you don't sell. Only if you've got bills to pay.
Otherwise it's just not worth it." He spoke at length on police brutality (like many other people in Christiania, he protested the use of tear gas in the commune), and claimed that police surveillance in the commune (video cameras, phone taps) had reached "Big Brother" levels.

I asked him if there was any hope for the survival of Christiania after July 1st. "There's always hope," he said. The Prince of Denmark is set to get married in May, and he said that the Christianians were planning marches and rallies to win over the population. It wouldn't be the first time. When the residents of Copenhagen began complaining about the hash dealers in YEARYEARYEAR, the citizens of Christiania held a 'Love Copenhagen Festival' and invited the entire city to visit the commune. There were street performers and open-air jazz concerts, and nearly 100,000 people visited in a single day. The discontent over Christiania died out quietly. It rekindled a few years later when Sweden claimed that Christiania was the root of all its drug problems. In similar fashion, the commune residents packed their bags for a 'Love Sweden' tour, and went on the road performing live music and minstrel shows. The complaints again died away.

I thanked him for talking to me. He asked me if I was sure I didn't want any hash, but before I could respond, a whistle cut through the air, and he melted away towards a building. The whistle is Christiania's home-grown alarm system, and it means that the police have entered the gates.

I saw them come in, dressed in immaculate navy-blue uniforms, with jackboots and billy clubs and the Danish word POLITI stenciled across their backs. The police are invariably described by the citizens of Christiania in an eloquent stream of obscenities, and there is no love lost between then. Tension between the citizens and police are again reaching extreme highs, for the first time since 1992. September of that year marked an increase in police attempts to clean the area, and there is still tension left from the response from Christiania, which saw residents put on immaculate navy-blue uniforms and jackboots, with the Danish word 'IDIOTI' stenciled on the back.

Newspapers from 1992 are grim, with headlines on the order of 'Angels from Hell,' and opening paragraphs like "Seven killers. Six drug dealers. Five thieves. Two assailants. And one house robber." All the newspapers from the time show pictures of massive fires, deliberately set at the entrances of Christiania to block the entrance of the police. But the newspapers from the time also discreetly report, on the inside pages, of award-winning jazz performances in Christiania, and local bands being signed by big-name record labels. The extent of police action in 1992, well documented by a Christianian film company, resulted in reports on police brutality from Amnesty International.

While I was in Christiania, the police wouldn't speak to me. The primary purpose of the police in the area is counter-narcotics (the self-policing Christianians will expel any violent people, and anyone convicted of theft), and the anti-hash laws rankle with the citizens. Multiple people raged that alcohol makes people violent, but that hash just makes you laid-back. Multiple people pointed out to me that when Amsterdam legalized light drugs, the consumption of hash actually declined (a fact for which I would find no supporting evidence), and everyone I talked to seemed to feel that legalization was the only choice. Most refer to hash as 'the softest drug in the world,' claim that it has no adverse effects on health, body, or mind. (Modern Medical Science disagrees; prolonged use of hash and other cannabis-based drugs is well known to wreak havoc on one's short-term memory).

It was raining, so I stopped into a cafe to have a coffee. The man sitting next to me was wearing a ratty black leather jacket and a beret over his long, braided, gray-streaked black hear. He had creased skin, two days worth of salt and pepper stubble on his chin, and the weathered look of a professional beatnik and semi-professional rapscallion. I asked him if he spoke English. "No," he said, in the flawless, unaccented American English that nearly every Dane I met spoke. "I don't speak English at all. Most Danes you'll meet can't speak even a word of it." He smiled, and introduced himself as Christmas. He was well-spoken, and peppered his sentences liberally with the word ‘man,’ and plenty of 60s slang.

Christmas claimed to be one of the seven founders of Christiania. I immediately asked him if he thought Christiania would survive after July 1st. “It has to,” he said emphatically. “They don’t dare touch us – they’re have civil WAR, man!” He used the Danish word for civil war – Bolgerkrig – and when he said it the other people in the café nodded knowingly.

As he said it, the whistle sounded outside again to indicate that the police had come back. “The police,” he spat, lacing his words with expletives. “When Christiania was founded,” he told me, “there were only three rules. You couldn’t drive in Christiania, because it was an environmental zone, compost and all that. You couldn’t have any words stenciled across your back – no Hell’s Angels or anything that might start fights. And you couldn’t, under any circumstances, carry arms of any kind. And now the police come. And they drive into Christiania, with ‘Politi’ stenciled on their backs, carrying a full arsenal. All our rules, man. All of them.” He narrowed his eyes, and started speaking in a gravelly voice the dripped with hatred. “We are animals,” he said. “And they, they are gods.”

He held up a Swiss army knife. “They dress like hockey players, full body armor,” he said. “And I wonder, why are they afraid of us? Because of this knife? It’s the only weapon I’ve got, man.” He told me that when the police try to rough him up, he immediately starts asking if they’ve found Jesus. “I preach to them, man, I preach and they leave me alone. Jesus, man. He’s good for the Police.”

I asked him if there were any churches in Christiania. “Well...” he said, “we’ve got a guy here. If you want to talk to him, just call him, and tell him that Christmas said Jesus lives here with you.”

He told me about Christiania in its infancy. The early years were difficult, he said, because of food shortages and hassles from the police. “But,” he said, “the Danes hate to see poor people, hate it, man. There aren’t any beggars in Copenhagen. So they supported us, because we were a place for the homeless to live. And so they made us a social experiment, blah blah blah. It was all about love, man, all about love and acceptance. The rule in Christiania is ‘don’t steal my beer.’ And if you don’t, you’ll fit right in.” (I was unaware of this easygoing acceptance before going to Christiania, so in the name of fitting in I quit shaving three days beforehand; scruff, I figured, equates roughly to beatnik).

I asked him if Christiania had changed much in 33 years, aside from the heavier police presence. He stopped making eye contact, and looked a little disgusted as he told me how he felt. “It started based on love, man, love and art. But we got greedy. A lot of people have forgotten that this is a commune, a social experiment. There aren’t many visionaries left, and I’m here because I support visionaries. They think it’s just about drugs, man. And it’s not.” He shook his head, and reached into his jacket for his hash pipe, not seeing any irony at all in his action.

He asked if I smoked, and I told him I didn’t. He claimed hash to be a miracle drug, the only thing that helped his arthritis (he wore braces on both wrists). He roasted a cigarette by running a lighter over the length of it, and I asked him why he did so. He claimed that it removed all the chemicals in cigarettes that can hurt your health. “And,” he added as a post-script, “it makes it taste better with the hash.”

As he smoked he gave the now-standard Christiania rant about the lack of ill effects of hash. And when he was finished, as a too-perfect coda to his spiel, he leaned over, offered me his hand, and re-introduced himself. “I’m Christmas, by the way.” And then he started spinning conspiracy theories, about microchips planted in skin and the end of the world from the coming Third World War (to be started, he claimed, when Russia and China unite to invade Israel), and all of his previous clarity and credibility dissolved in a matter of minutes.

I thanked him for his time, and stood up to leave. He shook my hand, and gave me his telephone number. “If you need anything,” he told me, “anything at all, man, just call me. You run out of dough, you need a place to crash or some wheels to get around, just call me. I’ll find it for you. Because I love you, man.”

I spent the next three hours in the Christiania newspaper archives, reading the history as written by the Danish press. (Written Danish is remarkably similar to English, and can be read easily with the help of a dictionary. Spoken Danish, however, is remarkably reminiscent of The Swedish Chef from the Muppets). The newspaper archive started in 1975, which disappointed me; I had been looking primarily for articles from 1974, when residents claimed that the first ever ‘Christmas for the Poor,’ had been held. The legend runs that scores of people from Christiania flooded Copenhagen’s department stores, and began handing out gifts to everyone who wanted them but couldn’t afford them. The gifts were, of course, never paid for, and the legend says that the next day, pictures of Danish police roughing up Santa Clauses hit the front pages of the newspapers.

The Christiania newspaper archive is a sea of contradictions. Most of the articles seethe with hatred at the idea of Christiania. But, in addition to lauding the arts, the newspapers also proclaim Christianians model citizens, because since the signing of their original lease, they have always paid their taxes, in full and on time.

I spent the rest of my time wandering around the area. Most of Christiania is parkland, and art is inescapable. Everything has an artistic flair, and it gives the vague feeling of being in a huge, poorly organized outdoor museum. Things that most people would consider trash have been turned into sculpture. In front of one house, I saw a high table, on which sat an old boot, varnished and filled with flowers. The commune is home to more than one beached boat turned outdoor patio, and outside of one there was a girl practicing opera. A tourist tried to give her some change, but she waved him off: Christianians, it seem, believe in art for the simple sake of art.

It is entirely possible that the government will close down Christiania, but no Dane I talked to favored the idea. Most expressed the idea that if Pusher Street and Christiania remain intact, then the hash and any problems it might bring will be left in a single, concentrated area. Dissolving the neighborhood, people told me, will flood Copenhagen with dealers and delinquents. But for now, Christianians can do little more than hope. And as I passed out of Christiania, under the sign painted with the words “You are now entering the EU,” I couldn’t help but wonder if the area would still be there should I ever find myself in Copenhagen again.

Posted by Dakota on 10:00 AM link |

Friday, May 07, 2004

Hoping to spend more than one night in the same city, I have again been kicked to the curb, and will be spending just a single day here in Wroclaw. I can't spend two to three hours (minimum time it takes-- so I'm wordy. Shoot me) blogging when I've got to get up and get out of the city.

So maybe tomorrow.

In the mean time, a voice from nowhere (or rather, from Taiwan): Ma GuiFu of study abroad fame has pointed my attention to this lovely little article. Those with Chinese fonts enabled will be able to peruse the article. Those with Mandarin abilities will of course want to focus on paragraph three, first sentence, last three characters before the first comma, which clearly read 'SONG MINGKAI'.

It's about the Jiangsu Interprovincial Foreign Language Competition, from which pundits will recall my BRACING triumphs in both the calligraphy and speech competitions. Fortunately for all you fans at home, Alta Vista speaks chinese a lot better than I do. Unfortunately, their English isn't so good. Babelfish translates that first sentence as follows:

My school has detailed the Belorussia girl Bilan row elegant and two American young partner Song Mingkai, Ma Guifu attended the foreign student China language skill big game, has won the second prize.

Yes, it's like poetry.

I'd also like to say that I was ANCHORED by the others, and that's why we only tagged second prize. (That is: the boldest of bold-faced lies).

More from me tomorrow, reporting to you from god knows which city.

Posted by Dakota on 2:53 PM link |

Thursday, May 06, 2004

To all those who have sent me emails to ask: where the hell are you? I apologize. I am currently in poland (Warsaw, hello!) and have been moving like a madman since all accomodation is booked. In the last 7 days I haven't once stayed in the same hotel two days in a row. Moving leads to little time to write emails but tomorrow morning I had to another theoretically calmer city wherein I can sit and write and BE for a bit, because there's much to discuss on the subject of things like, for example, Denmark.

And such.

As a reminder: there is no city on this earth that is nicer than Prague. Which is sad, since there's no city on this earth that's LESS PLEASANT to be in than Prague. I can't stand that the world has figured out her secret.

And on that, we will be in touch. For now, I'm scrambling to find hotels in Budapest suitable for my parents. Egads? Indeed.

Posted by Dakota on 1:02 PM link |
Current Location:
The People's Republic of China.

Stop by any time: everyone's welcome.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Be Born

Comments and requests for dates should be directed to email.

And here I am.

And for all you random folks out there whom I don't know, for the love of god, email me. I'm abroad, know no one, and look forward to hearing from you. I'm especially looking at YOU, whomever YOU are who's Facing The Sun all the way from Kenya. And Sweden. And Canada. And whatnot.

Books Tackled, 2006:

1. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford
2. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington
3. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, Anonymous
5. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Dawn Prince-Hughes

This year's movies, in chronological order:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Pi: Faith in Chaos
4. My Big Fat Independent Movie
5. The Winter Guest
6. Voices in Wartime
7. What Dreams May Come
8. Farewell My Concubine
9. The Ring
10. Like Water for Chocolate
11. Sahara

Foreign Service Officers by day, Bloggers by day as well.

The Diplodocus
(Islamabad, Pakistan).

The Permanent Mission of Joshie
(Zagreb; Libyaward).

Prince Roy
(Chennai; Taiwanward).

Sue and not You
(Tbilisi, Georgia).

Life on the Mekong
(Vientiane, Laos).

FSO Globe Trotter
(Lahore, Pakistan).

Vice Consul: Diplomatically Transformed
(New Delhi, India).

Adventures in Good Countries

Our Man in Tirana
(Tirana, Albania).

Anne's Blog
(Kazakhstan; Greeceward).

(Bogota, Colombia).

Furnish Worldwide

Tasman's World
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

(Lome, Togo).

World Adventurers
(Seoul, Korea).

Aaron Martz

A for Adventure
(Chennai, India).

The Excellent Adventures of Nickie P
(Paris, France).

Permanently Disco
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Consul At Arms
(Kingston, Jamaica).

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