The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Frog in the Night-Time

Kinlay House Hostel, Temple Bar, Dublin--
[photo: Plaque in Dublin General Post office]

I'm crashed out in a top bunk in the hostel's 16-bed bunkhouse room when I'm awakened by someone shouting rather excitedly and drunkenly in French. This was a fairly common occurrence when we lived on the busy Rue de la Republique, and I reflexively holler back "Ta guele!" (roughly, "shut your quiche-hole"), but he doesn't. Wait, where am I? Oh yeah, Ireland. I open one eye and locate my watch...quarter to four.

The guy's not shutting up or going away.

He switches, tragically, to sorta-English.
"It is a schtoll! There is a schtoll!"
Then he snaps on the light switch, and the whole room is lit with blinding fluorescence. Son of a...

I open the other eye and look around. Fourteen other backpackers and wayfarers grumble and curse, and what appears to be a balled-up dirty sock sails through the air and tags the guy on the shoulder. I realize that the sooner somebody talks this guy down and figures out what the problem is, the sooner we can all get back to sleep. And I'm the only other one in the room qui parle francais. Damn.

I slither down off the rack and go talk to him. He's just gotten back from a nightclub (fair enough, I came in around 2AM myself), he's had a bit to drink (fair enough, this is Dublin), and he's got the munchies (fair enough, it happens). But when he got back to the dorm, someone had ransacked his backpack and stolen his calamar.

Wait, what? I thought I'd misunderstood.
"Mon calamar."
His squid.

So, let me get this straight: You think that someone entered this locked room, to which only the people here right now have the key, rummaged through your gear, and took nothing except your plastic tub of marinated squid? And for this you wake up everybody in the place at 4AM?

A civic-minded Aussie (every hostel in the world has at least one Aussie or Kiwi staying in it) joins in the investigation, and with me translating, we bring the situation to a temporary solution. This dastardly theft will be reported to the hostel authorities. We will assume innocence on the part of our fellow dorm inhabitants. The lights will be turned back off. Here is a packet of crisps. You may want to have a glass of water and take some aspirin. Perhaps tomorrow your squid will be returned unmolested.

[photo: "No Bomb Please" on trash can, Temple Bar]

Apart from this unpleasant incident, my weekend trip to Dublin went without a hitch--well, the weather was terrible, but it is Dublin after all.

I realized after I got home that I had taken very few photos (about 20, versus the 150 or so I took in Austria/Switzerland). Dublin doesn't really have a scenic focal point: There are no mountains or ocean views, the Liffey river and Ha'penny bridge [photo] are pretty ho-hum, the Georgian architecture is stately but a little dull... in fact, what most people go to Dublin to see is the inside of a pub and the creamy head on a pint of Guinness.

As for myself, I did much the same, prioritizing pubs with a literary connection: this one mentioned in Ulysses, this one in At Swim-Two-Birds, this one where Joyce used to drink, this one where Brendan Behan got arrested (there were a few of those).

By the time I was on the plane home, I started to realize that my entire Dublin trip had been experienced through an early-20th-century filter: Nearly everything I'd seen related to Joyce or Beckett or O'Brien or the 1916 Easter Rising or Michael Collins. I'm certain that this caused me to miss something of the true character of the city and its people in the 21st century. Is that necessarily wrong? Well, probably. [photo: Ulysses signed first edition]

Sunday morning, as I'm packing up my gear to head to the airport, the Aussie guy stops by:
"Did your friend ever find his squid?"
I laugh. "I don't know. But I think he left. His stuff's gone"
"He left? I thought you two were traveling together."
"Huh? No. Oh God no."

Being so self-important as to wake up a dormful of guys at 4AM over a missing container of squid (that I'm pretty sure no one else would touch)--I'm willing to put that down to basic drunkenness rather than basic Frenchness. But more than one French person to whom I've told this story has said "That's very French."

And though I do in fact like marinated squid (if it's fresh, and hasn't been stewing in some guy's backpack for a week) I swear it wasn't me.

[photo: James Joyce statue squinting at the morning sun]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Maceo! Blow Ya Horn!

I'm not one to toot my own horn unnecessarily, but right about now I'ma hit it from the top like the JBs...

One of my short stories, the one I mentioned here last year, was nominated for
the 2008 Pushcart Prize. Here's what one reviewer had to say:

"an amazing piece of fiction… this tale dives deep into the cold, fresh waters of [Frog's] unique writing voice. The result is a classic tale which stays with the reader. I can't complement [the editor] enough for selecting this perfect story.”

You can be forgiven for thinking "yeah, but on his blog we get 7 paragraphs of dreck about doing laundry..."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reverie in the Laverie

Tuesday night is Laundry Night here at the Fortress of Solitude, though unfortunately since moving from a 152-square-meter dee-luxe apartment (in the sky-hy) to a 25-square-meter converted gardener's shed, I no longer have the space or the connections (ha!) for a washing machine. A guy living alone doesn't generate all that much laundry, but enough that each week I take a load of either lights or darks down the hill to my nearest laundromat (J-P Laverie), wedged into a tiny space in a Renaissance-era building, in between an antiquarian bookseller and The Metal Cafe.

There are 5 washers here, 3 dryers, a detergent vending machine hung on a wall, a narrow table for folding, and that's it. A load of wash costs 3.50, which is kind of a lot, but that's not the worst of it: the 3.50 must be in the form of three 1-euro coins and one 50-centime piece [see green sign in photo]. There is no change machine. There is no attendant to make change. There is (usually) no one else around at all. There is only a corner bodega 3 blocks away, run by a hard-looking snag-toothed Arab who makes his living selling cheap wine and 9%-alcohol beer to the bums who hang out on the riverbank, and who does not give change unless you buy something. So next to the the jar where I dump my pocket change each day there is a neat stack of 1-euro and 50-centime pieces awaiting the next Tuesday. (Dryers also take only 50-centime pieces).

So each Tuesday, I stuff my laundry into one of the washers that are actually functioning (3 out of 5 ain't bad) and hop up on the table with a book to help pass the 40 minutes. There are no chairs. I lean my back against a wall covered in posters and flyers [photo]: Concerts, films, plays; flea markets; a lost dog ("flea-bitten, fearful"); and "Recherche Desperement Marine"--that's a girl's name, not an occupation--followed by a little squiggle that is either initials or a drawing, and a cell phone number. A clown for hire, named Freddy, 30 euros; unclear whether that's per hour or per appearance.

Into the dryer with my clothes. The proprietor stops by to be sure I have my last load in; it's nearly eight o'clock. She is a tiny old woman with a tiny quivering dog, and she totters back out as the dog pisses on the stoop (which is why I sit on the table and not the stoop). The insistent repetitive beat of Eurodisco comes from The Metal Cafe next door. Why don't they play metal at The Metal Cafe? On the wall behind me is a poster for a triple-bill rock show by an Iron Maiden tribute band, a Helloween tribute band (!) and a Thin Lizzy tribute band (!!!).

I load my sorta-dry clothes into the bag, cross Place de la Trinite and head up the hill toward home. [photo: the lower third of Montee du Gourgillon; note angle of street vs. angle of level windowsill at left] The moon is full and the narrow street echoes my slow footsteps (and by the time I reach the top, my heavy breathing). Inside the Clos Vendome, I pause to look out over the city from the esplanade that connects the gatehouse and old orchard to the Big House and inner garden. [photo: crummy composition on my part, lining up the steeple of Eglise St. Georges with the Credit Lyonnais tower behind it; Saone river and Quai Tilsitt in foreground; Place Bellecour lit up at center] It's good to pause and look around myself sometimes, remind myself where I am and what I'm doing. I don't do it enough.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This Line Is Busy.

Sorry for no posts in a while... I'm busy sewing an American flag on my backpack.

Stay tuned.