miércoles, 30 de mayo de 2018

Split tongue personality

Language is like an overcoat. It can be too wide, comfortable or too small. It can be old, it can be new, beautiful, ugly or mere functional, adabtable to other styles or rigidly seeking its own truth. Speaking more than one language implies one can choose the coat that fits the day. I like thinking in one of my later acquired languages, English mostly but Spanish also, Catalan only when I feel very lucid, while speaking whatever the moment calls for, Dutch reserved for breakfast and weekends. Did you know that thinking in a language is much easier than speaking it? To my ears, the Spanish language is of the rigid type. It's a well-organised language which allows for improvisation and wordplay but not much for interpretation. Spanish is clear, as is the law. Speaking unclear, in fact, is quite difficult in Spanish. Most politicians are easily caught out for beating around the bush. Thinking in Spanish makes me feel smart, analytical and bright, but lacking in attention for the unexpected. Catalan sounds warmer, coincidental, a language looking for solutions, perhaps because it's very much on the move now that non-natives have cautiously started using it. Spanish has its solution ingrained. It's a settled language, its latest inventions of little weight.

English gives me power. Understanding English is the road to information these days. Being able to read German and French keeps a modicum of free sourcing possible. I enjoy working on my English, maintain it rather as there seems to be a glass ceiling hanging just over every non-native's abilities. I'm not really sure I like the language. It's quite a hypocrite tongue, hiding its truth behind would be's and false intonation. Being a language of stage actors, always knowing the right words for any moment, speaking English proficiently requires becoming English. I thought about the latter possibility when I was writing a novel in English, Jungletown, some years ago. Could I be temporarily English? Should I pretend to be fluent in Estuary for a while? It made sense, yet I felt I couldn't cut off my Dutch roots completely without misinterpreting the younger characters I had in mind for my book. English had only seriously entered my realm after thirty, when I began speaking it on a daily basis, a language of adulthood. If I wanted my yoots to sound right, it was going to be Dutch based English, an English version of my Dutch way of thinking which still was able to dig deep into previous versions. I set out inventing and writing my own Dunglish, allowing for non-existing phrases which nevertheless sounded English to give colour. I wasn't totally satisfied with the results. A shine of artificiality took the lure away. I understood I needed to dig deeper into my past and find the earliest root I could base my private English on, to give the impression I had learned it at such young age, which wasn't the case but that being the point of the whole exercise. So I turned to Gronings, the language I spoke until I was seven, at which age I chose to stick to Dutch exclusively. My Gronings isn't particularly good, but I have been fed with its rhythm, heard in the North-East of Netherland adjacent to the German border and of a Saxon cadence. Saxon being one of the constituent languages of English and Dutch merely an off-shoot with Spanish, English, French, Jiddisch, Malay, Surinamese and assorted influences, it made sense to see if I could get closer this time, make my English more real. I certainly feel my Groninger phrases fit English better than the former Amsterdam inspired ones, the differences less pronounced and therefore more palpable. I sort of quietly shove them in. I also sense my dialect connects better with the Northern tongues, from Manchester up to Scotland. But I'm drifting. I wanted to write about Spanish.

Spanish is the language which these days tells the Catalans they cannot speak or think in their own tongue. Their language was severely damaged after forty years of strict prohibition and it has found its way back in society thanks to a strict policy of educating in Catalan. Many people speak it, old and young mostly, though Spanish is the language of Barcelona's streets. It's a rebellious language, as it's Italian in nature. It gives the speaker the power of individuality whereas Spanish gives the power of state. Spanish, once called the language of god, is always right. It has forced this position on whomever it found on its way and its success certainly comes in part thanks to its inherent qualities. It's a clear and concise language which particularly fits judicial Spanish well.
The Spanish of state is not spoken by many people, I must say. People who speak a lesser Spanish, like me but many with me, lack the education and insight to understand all of its intricacies. In the current state of affairs, their Spanish is quite inconsequential, a tongue merely meant to laugh in and show emotions with. Nobody listens to them. Well, we do, out of politeness, but we forget such words instantly. State Spanish, on the other hand, we listen very carefully to. State Spanish has become a dangerous language recently, some say it always was and that it's simply showing its ugly face again. We fear how the state plays wordgames with our convictions and desires, when translated into Spanish. Quietly protesting in the streets has become rebellion, venting your opinion is incitement, wanting to break free from the inertia of living with a hostile government scores accusations of nazism and terrorism, people being left to rot in jail or forced into exile for speaking their mind are considered enemies of state. We feel we can no longer trust the Spanish language. It even forced the new president of the Generalitat into a rather harsh rebuff of the non-Catalan speaking crowd. The Spanish press, including once pro-Catalan El Periodico, were all over it.
I live it on the street. My Catalan mostly absent, I turn to Spanish without hesitation when I address someone, and I have come to register a growing resentment under Catalan speakers to even listen to me (as I always encourage them to stick to their own tongue), my excuses meaning little since it has to do with the language more than with me. I have to accept this, of course, and I do. It makes me try Catalan a bit more.

Spanish speakers meanwhile have felt emboldened by last year's developments, one gets the impression. They had become quiet when Rajoy was turning up the heat, afraid to show their diverging thoughts to their increasingly agitated fellow citizens, but after his apparent win they started speaking their mind in public. I'm happy this is happening, but I must say it is not beautiful what many of them are thinking. After building a life here, and for many this came with hardships most native Catalans never had to endure, they now turn their back on their neighbours. They are willing to sacrifice the society they too have created, a mostly succesful and relaxed society, on the altar of their supposed Spanishness. But what can Spanishness be if one doesn't speak the language sufficiently, a language which mercilessly stratifies its users into levels of influence? English is very similar in that respect, by the way, Dutch much less so. What will our españolitas get back for their meekness? Don't they understand they are sawing off the legs from under their own seats? Are they that sure their language will save them? Is this what the death of the real god leads to? I feel we are starting to misunderstand each other.

Meanwhile, American companies and individuals are investing heavily in Barcelona. Now isn't that weird?

Photo nicked from Débora De Sá Tavares

viernes, 25 de mayo de 2018

New masks and skinsuits

The subterranean traveller was made aware of a phenomenon which was quickly doing the rounds recently, the talking of is, less so the sightings. Quoting the rumour, it was starting to appear that rich people have begun acquiring skin replicade robots which are able to replace them for certain tedious tasks, like making low profile public calls. Skin replicade robots look perfectly human if you don't come too close and they even show human behaviour, as they have high learning capabilities. But robots will never be the real thing, so you will inevitably end up seeing strange features, tight, stricken, emotionless faces on strong and healthy bodies, and it will make you wonder if it's really them as you are no close follower of their facebook page or anything, or a bot after all, taking over while they are being somewhere else. World famous became Phase Buck with his white mask for a face and his weird behaviour on a parliamentary hearing nobody was really interested in, people globally meming their jokes about him being his significantly techy other. The traveller was sort of following the story from some distance before mentioning it at a Friday evening family kitchen gathering. Have you heard about it, he said against a wave of protest. The subterranean was hopelessly late at the stamtoafel, both Trandi and his offspring let him know.
That is so yesterday, Off belittled him belittlingly.
The traveller managed not to move a muscle. But do you believe it?
Why not, would be exciting if it were true, Off happened happily.
Because that's the way you think, you want to like it before you believe it, because you're young, the subterranean thought.

So Phase is Fake and everybody knows about it, the traveller accepted defeat, but what about CR7? How natural is he?
A famous footballer who is indeed showing constrained features of lately, Off helped out. He saw Trandi's puzzled look. He was named after a licence plate.
Whatever he's on, he's not natural, the subterranean traveller pushed the narrative. He had three downhill seasons going from okayish to pretty lame and suddenly he's back with a vengeance, and not just that, but he's getting everything right. Every shot on goal is a hit. There's a distinct Lee Majors feel about CR7, don't you think?
Six million dollar man? Off placed a sure bet.
That's the one, buddy, the father praised his son.
So his body should be worth at least 60 million whatever in today's currency, Trandi was showing some interest. What can you buy for 60 mil?
I'd say your numbers are slightly overrated, but a well-equipped modern avatar should be available for that money, yes.
And I say he's only partially enhanced, Off came off. He wouldn't want to miss his own party, would he? So he's got bionically enhanced legs and some chips up the brain to shoot the perfect ball.
Sounds tempting, the subterranean granted.
What is enhanced?
More of the same for the price of something new.
It means his body movements are computer controlled. Do you want me to tell you how?
I sure do, dear Off, smiled Trandi, the traveller feeling outdated again.
The computer learns from his movements and is of course always aware of its position towards goal and the speed at which the ball may approach. It then translates this information into a pattern of muscle contractions which are activated through light injections. The computer is therefore the skin they all seem to be carrying over their real body, transparent of course to avoid asfixiation.
And the processor?
An implant. They don't have to be big.
Cloud, the traveller said unnecessarily.
So it's like a bodysuit, you say?
Not quite so much, it's just a web of sensors, very simple, with the hardware elsewhere. They might even make them disposible.
But what gives the mask face? Trandin wondered aloud. There's no hard substance, I understand.
That's because the wrong stories are written for CR7, the traveller broke in, happy to be able to jump the bandwagon. They tell him to have this overly stern face, they make him run like a robot. I don't know if sponsor commitments limit the skin from getting to know its client, but you would expect a more natural behaviour after a couple of matches.
That makes sense, Off admitted admittingly.
So it's like electronic botoxing, Trandi remarked. Would be quite the invention if it were true.
Yes, but hire yourself a good script writer and make sure its learning abilities are unrestricted.
And I would be one of those writers and I'd write scary stories to freak people out, Off served as a thought.
There'd be demand, you'd think? the traveller countered quite immediately.
Off must have noticed his father's irritation, as he chose not to answer.

Of course we never knew if any of our speculations were even nearly true. But they seemed so selbstverständlich when you consider how televison has become a total psyop these days. There's nothing honest and real anymore in tv land. Not even televised football is what it seems. Most results are tampered with and the referees are the main culprits, as they have decision power, though they're sometimes quite openly helped by players. As a consequence, the public's emotions are being gamed with. Ups and downs are artificially induced and can be timed to coincide with wider societal events such as elections and police crack downs. Early champions league exits, for example, do tend to give the host city's economy a bit of a stumble, though so far it hasn't really caused lasting damage. You're outside the circle for a while, is all. Try getting back in with a sacrifice, perhaps.

But what all this pulling of strings and opening of doors that will never close again is really about, are the subsequent emotional highs and lows people experience and which create strong flows of energy emerging from the body's skin and other corporal ports and filling up the astral realm around one's physical confines, how far your thoughts can reach, really. This energy is then collectively sucked off by entities feeding off such high intensity soul activity manifestations as will evoke win or loss in an up to one hundred thousand people stadium gathering. This is the reason behind many spectacular results of late. Give'm a high, give'm a low, give'm a low, give'm a high. Other forms of mass entertainment of course are equally fit for live energy sucking. You can perhaps think of examples yourself. I came to understand how this works when I stepped into a metro full of football supporters on their way home from a successful match, some years ago, me just commuting. The horse stench was overwhelming. Nobody in particular was being the stallion, it was just the sheer number, a whole stadium and to a lesser extent the many millions watching the show on tv, all to a certain degree aggrevated and ready to prove their humanhood. So much heat emanating from bodies. I have been part of such crowds, celebrating analogue wins, but it's quite different when you don't belong.

Whatever happens with this energy, whether it's used and how, we don't know, yet it seems clear there's an agenda behind it. It's all too conspicuous, like you are supposed to get it. As always, there will be at least two agendas. In the meantime, the public have lost all this precious soul energy, given away in mass confusion. We all have done it, from time memorial. Many still do it. 'Cause it's fun. But realise it's coming with a price these days. Our numbers have grown too big to be still naïve about life. And it's absolutely clear we are quickly becoming redundant to the elite's needs. So you'd better assess your real position in all this. You need to be strong for the coming journey. We don't know what's galopping at us, but it can't all be fine. So keep your strength, keep your soul's energy, keep your love for everything around you. Be prepared, not scared.

Visitors, part two

After Montse had calmed down from the insinuation her own daughter would be made complicit in the crime her two guests were planning to perpetrate on her, she was looking into the barrel of a small handgun, pointed at her by S. Tie her to a chair, S ordered M, who was leaning backwards in his chair as if he wasn't at all interested any longer. Do it, S snapped. She measured her partner with disgust: you should perhaps have taken a little less from that dangerously embezzling liquid they serve here for wine. How was I to know it would be such a skull breaker, M defended himself while letting go of the bottle. With a loud moan he rose from his chair. If you would please sit down, ma'am, he quite effortlessly resumed his posture, I will tie you up with my belt, which is the most comfortable in these circumstances. Montse felt she had no choice but to obey, as the gun was still pointing rather straight at her heart. So she ended up as decreed and that's when the party started.

I'm afraid we're now really going to need to hurt you, S said, sounding human when her message was the harshest, like it was all so hollywoodesque. Montse didn't dare say anything at this moment, just hoping for the punishment, or whatever it was they had in mind, to be withstandable. If there´s an opening, an escape in any shape, you go for it, otherwise keep low, that seemed good advice.
First up was a real scam trial, to her surprise. M accused her of loving her own people more than him and S, and others like them. This was not allowed under the new law which favoured the centre in every aspect of life. Hadn't you heard of it, yet? You must love us. M asked permission to be quite firm with Montse, an expression which like the red pepper scale in an Indian restaurant didn't seem to completely cover what was actually on the menu, and S granted him full freedom of expression.
But I live here and you live there, in your centre, Montse couldn't suppress her unease, and we don't bother each other, do we? So why can't you leave me alone?
Because we must punish you. It's in the law, isn't it, S?
It is, since you have thought wrongly. You had the opportunity to have supportive thoughts, instead you chose to think wrongly. This is a pity and a shame for you.
Let's talk no further, exclaimed M, losing his concentration again, the time for measures is now.
It sure is, S agreed, but we must wait a wee bit longer for redemption to set in, it's in the contract.
So I get to say something, then? Montse quickly interrupted.
If you must, be my guest, please try to be funny.
She looked into that falsely bearded woman's burning eyes, only warm there, as if she needed to cool down to find human feelings, and took her chance. I must say I never was aware of doing anything wrong, she got out, I was just minding my own business, speaking to the folks next door, the local clientele. We don't know about empires, not anymore, and we certainly don't want to belong to any, as the saying goes here.
Enough, screamed M. How dare you say such filthy words? He took his napkin and slapped her in the face, not hard but painful. You must know who you belong to, it's in the law, isn't that so, S? It is. So you must belong, you cannot be nobody.
I ain't nobody, I'm Montse. I live here, I belong here.
You belong where we say, M shouted. He had completely recovered from his earlier faux pas. Say that you love us.
Say you love us.
He seemed totally honest and S beamed equally sincere thinking. Montse laughed: how can I say I love you when I hate you? You know, this isn't the first time, and I am sure you have heard about it. My grandmother was visited by your ilk and that didn't turn out too well for her, though my mother sort of recuperated what got lost. There were different times for a while, when we all got richer, you must remember them? They were very pleasant for our town.
I remember a horrific mass-extending moral ineptitude, S countered. People were screaming for punishment everywhere, but none would come from the empty heads in charge who thought they were doing the folks a favour by giving them welfare. So we had to come back and here we are, to beat you all into servitude, at your request.
But I don't want that at all, cried Montse, I want to be left in peace.
Peace, yelled M, what is peace in a world at war? With a twist of his finger he indicated he wouldn't mind having that previously mentioned Rioja uncorked. Peace is unthinkable, he concluded somewhat abruptly, therefore it doesn't exist. Punishment on the other hand is highly thinkable and will always happen.

Montse was starting to feel scared. So far she had been too surprised and angry to think of the consequences of whatever they were threatening her with, but now, tied to her chair, not painful but unable to escape without great effort, something the barrel of the gun wouldn't allow for, she realised she was powerless in the face of their mad reprehension. They carried a gun. Without it she might have attacked them in the end, certainly with the M character mostly out of it, just be quick about it, yet all this was empty rethoric in light of S' determination to actually use the thing, or so she read her blood lusting eyes. Montse thought of her daughter, who had been shopping in the city that day and was on her way back now. Why hadn't she called her from the kitchen? Montse smiles wrily. Because it didn't seem necessary as it was all so unbelievable, and now they're really going for it. What madness has possessed these people? What do they hope to gain from this? They were the best words Montse could think of and they were not going to save her, but at least it felt good to express them. M, she noticed, had dug up a rather nasty looking instrument which he was tossing in his hand, not sure if they were scissors or knives, careful not to let it drop. And then it struck her how she could use Clara's arrival to her advantage. Make it buy some time.

I was thinking, she began, maybe this is not the right time to have a torture session.
S smiled downwardly from her low position, M shouted, trying to be present once again: stop giving us your opinion on matters you have no influence on. We decide and we choose not to listen to you. He laughed.
Montse was not to be discouraged, as courage was the only thing she had left. You see, my daughter is on her way home, in fact she should be here any minute, and I don't feel a young woman would improve from being confronted with her mother in, shall we say, compromising circumstances. I'd rather leave her out of this.
S raised her hand before M could speak. And how would you organise that, she asked. Give her a call?
It was the only real option, apart from inviting her in. She would have to come up with an excuse to keep her away. She was going to send her for an errand to an acquaintance, and she must pick the right person to make her understand all was not well at home. So she decided on her late husband's cousin, who was known to be an established conspiracy theorist, and ask Clara to buy a copy of his latest home published book. That might raise an eyebrow or two.
Yes, I think I should give a her call, don't you? Before we start, I mean.
I'm in no particular hurry, said S. So make your little call, but don't talk about the wrong things.
As in mentioning us, yelled M.
She understands. Don't you, Montse?

End of part two


It was one of those winter nights in a small town on a secondary throughroad when even the neighbours wouldn't show up for a drink in the tavern. Montse was ready to close shop early, when a car stopped and two very different men came in, one tall and skinny and with an air of conquest, the other short and fat and meek in his posture, easily influenced he seemed.
Dear lady, can we ask for your services at this late hour still? the tall one exclaimed. He wore a kept white beard under oddly black hair, his eyes somewhat unsharp. We would also like to stay the night, a shared room will do, but with separate beds of course.
Naturally, Montse smiled awkwardly, trying not to show her distress. Yet I must serve you what I have, as the cook has gone home early. She wouldn't want them to know the place was all her own doing since Jordi, her husband, had escaped from the earth plane. Would a home stew with bread and a bottle of red wine be to your gentlemen's liking?
Definitely so, yelled the skinny character, a bit like he was out of it, Montse thought. Short fatty, who sported a reddish hipster beard, kept respectfully silent. She showed them the largest of three rectangular tables in the bar and popped a bottle of their local's finest. White beard wanted to toast to her, but with an I'll be right back she fled into the kitchen where she lit the fire under a pot with sofrito, adding kidney sausage and bone in their gravies and pre-cooked knolls and onions and some kitchen vegetables as well, with a whisk of beer to help it all connect. Ten minutes later she reappeared with two steaming hot bowls on a tray, with tomatoed bread and garlic on the side. The new arrivals were shouting loudly, or as it turned out, it was fatty's turn to listen to skin's furious commentaries. It had something to do with a business partner who weren't paying their dues. But I tell you, my dear, we will get them, and when we have them, we are going to punish them for their bad behaviour, we're gonna hurt them real bad, aren't we, S?
Of course we are, S had agreed in a surprisingly condescending voice.
Montse decided not to want to know everything and began putting the food on the table.
This looks excellent, dear woman, yelled the tall thin self kicker, and may I say the smell promises even better.
Montse smiled reverently this time. I will trust then everything is to the gentlemen's order, mr...?
M. And this is my companion S.
Montse is my name. I can see the wine's superb quality has not gone unnoticed. Shall I bring another bottle?
There was a quick exchange of glances and it was S, the quiet one who was showing a feminine face behind his facial growth, who gave the nod. Feel free, dear Montse, screamed M, lavish us as much as your professional eye deems needed.
So she popped them another bottle, a bit meaner this time, and was about to repair to the kitchen once again when M asked her bluntly: would you mind if we hurt you a bit tonight, milady? You will of course be compensated for any damages.
I beg your pardon? Montse didn't know how to respond other than in formal terms.
There is concern you have been ridiculing us, interrupted S unexpectedly. His voice was soft and high and he smiled as only women smile, the beard suddenly looking unreal. You have been trying to embazzle us with your poisonous local wine. She pointed at the glass in front of her, which remained untouched, I know what you are up to, woman! Her voice rose to a shrill cry, you want to make us feel unwelcome.
For this you will be punished, thundered M, isn't that so, S?
S stared at Montse with a cold fire burning in her unmoving eyes. There was no doubt any longer that she was a woman with a false beard. It is so, she served, now if you would be so smart as to submit yourself to M's intervention which shall always be in correspondence to the severity of your crimes.
But I only served you a bottle of my best wine, laughed Montse increduously.
Your wine, indeed. You should have realised we only take national spirits.
M, who was happily biting his way into the second bottle, smiled wickedly. I must say this local produce certainly is of prime quality, therefore I suggest a mild spanking plus monthly delivery of a half dozen. S?
You know I prefer punishment over debt, hissed S.
Montse couldn't believe what was happening to her. This must be some kind of joke they were practicing for Carnival, right? Look, my friends, I will take the wine off the bill and I may have an old Rioja somewhere, but let's not overact and do things we might regret later on. Her studied manner, unfortunately, could not persuade the visitors.
Silent, barked tiny S with unredeeming eyes. Who gave you the right to speak?
And who are you to command me in my hotel? Montse felt an old anger taking hold of her, as she had been here before. But those were forgotten times, for sure?
S and M had started giggling and now were rolling over the table, M that is. When he finally came to himself, a time space S sat quietly back in, he stretched up and tried a defiant pose and then yelled in his over the top manner: we own you, you fool. We are the owners. It says so in the contract. Right, S?
S produced a document from her bag. It states this hotel belongs to us, to my family that is. M here is our current caretaker manager and I am just there to conclude everything is developing as accorded with the judge. Her index finger had flipped through a handful of pages. See? There's the warrant. We can throw you out if we want to.
Again, Montse could only be true to herself in the face of such overpowering madness. I never sold the place to anyone. It's been my family's for three generations, my daughter is up next, perhaps. So stop talking nonsense to me.
Nonsense? screamed M. Are you crazy, woman? You're making things much worse for yourself here.
That's okay, S interrupted. Look, Montse, I have here an age old deed which proves my ownership. On the basis of this document, the judge has granted me the right to do with my property as I see fit. And that includes your position.
It surely doesn't include torture, I say. What ridiculous medieval parchment was this woman talking about, and what irresponsible judge would go for her story? Why don't we sleep it over? Montse suggested. I will call a lawyer tomorrow and then he can have a look at it.
That won't be necessary. It's already decided.
But I wasn't there, I mean, without anybody hearing me?
The judge deemed it an unadvisable waste of tax payers' money since the title unequivocally states my ancestor's dominance, as the phrasing went in those days.
Montse was getting very tired from the other's stone cold insistence. I will talk to my lawyer always before making a decision, she announced with effort. We will see to this tomorrow, alright?
M, who had lost track sooner and was watching football on his telephone, reacted on cue. Tomorrow? Yes, why not tomorrow, S? He took a swig straight from the bottle of lesser wine. Let's all tug in and leave Montesa a chance to clean up her kitchen.
S let their expectations run dry in a prolongued silence, well beyond what seemed in step with the evening's rhythm. You want the easy way out, don't you, she finally said. You want a good price before anything else.
Who wouldn't, Montse spilled before she could think. Why did she have to say that?
Don't worry, my dear, S assured with an almost honest smile, we will compensate you.
All the compensation talk got Montse go weak in the brain. How much are we talking about here, she inquired. I would need to buy my daughter a new future.
Whose daughter, M yipped from behind his screen.
Your daughter could be in our employment if she is willing to bend to our rules, S smiled, a lot less honest this time. That would substantially reduce the total amount you will be needing from us.
I'm not selling her, if that's what you mean, Montse replied insulted.
She will sell herself, don't worry.
Montse's eyes sought her opponent's and was spewing pure disgust when she caught them. Whether it were the words or the way they were spoken, but that's when she lost it.

Bar Chino – a bad day at the office

During the heated month of October, the subterranean traveller was found on the streets of Barcelona rather a lot, so he repaired to a larger number of Chinese owned day time bars for a cupper or some coffee than he was used to. They were strange places, most of those Chinoes, filled with people shying away from the sun, sitting at cheap tables and staring at giant tv screens blaring panicky stories of mayhem in the streets of Barcelona. At one such an occasion a middle-aged man with a comb-over covering his newly acquiered bald patch and a soft leather jacket hanging off his shoulders like from a hook in the wall, was watching Antenna3 or something alike, could have been any other channel from Madrid, pushing an already famous fake story about indepe violence, something to do with a university campus. The traveller observed how the man agreed with the message in a physical way, shaking and rocking, like he was offering his body to the consequences. They should round 'm all up, the viewer said to no one in particular, all those misfits, and close the university.
You'd think so? the subterranean, who had just received his cortado, couldn't help asking.
Bald patch turned around and measured the traveller at the bar with instant distrust. Who's asking the question?
The subterranean traveller felt like he were fishing, throwing out his rod. Who I am, sir, is of no importance, he smiled, sipping from his lukewarm coffee, I'm just curious who would want to shut down a well-functioning institute for higher learning on the basis of some rumour about a minor incident.
The other looked puzzled and then embarrassed. As a matter of speaking, of course.
Of course, the traveller absolved him, they were just your words, uttered solely to insult and intimidate.
Patch by now could see where the traveller was heading. Are you trying to say I have no right to voice my opinion? he asked in an irritated voice.
Oh dear, the subterranean thought, what swamp have I jumped in here? Yet he had no choice but to make the most of it. I'm not saying at all, sir, that you shouldn't speak your mind, I was merely wondering if you really meant what you said. He gestured at the tv screen, where a woman in some tiny Spanish town was screaming illegibly about Catalunya. Why the anger? he asked in a bar-wide manner. Why the ugly words? Catalans don't use such words, in my mind, so why would you? Do you honestly feel insulted by the fact that after 500 years they still don't like how you treat them?
So you're not Catalan? bald patch quizzed with a tiny smile.
The subterranean traveller let him recuperate, not feeling a desire to be the avenging type. I live here and I like it here, no need to let this beautiful city go down the drain because some dickheads can't handle the fact we're doing better without them.
Bald patch was losing him here. He gave a wry smile, saving himself more than meaning it, it seemed, then shifted his attention back to the tv.
Don't you have something else, the subterranean asked the barman, in his early thirties perhaps, taking into account the Chinese here tend to look young quite long. Barman pretended not to hear him and started inspecting the ceiling, which by all accounts looked just fine. Haven't you got another channel, the traveller repeated in somewhat sterner voice, we know this shit by now.
The barman startled. He looked the traveller in the eye for a split second and asked on cue: What do I put?
Something Catalan, the subtarranean smiled.
He shook his head. Not possible.
Why not?
Not good. Problems. He clearly wasn't going to explain himself further and in a sudden move grabbed the remote control and switched to Telecinco, as if that made any difference. People were talking how dangerous the streets of Barcelona had become. Knowing those streets quite well, the subterranean traveller could attest this was pertinently not true and if there were to be detected a slight increase in unfortunate encounters, they more often than not involved aggressively behaving españolistas.
Do you live here? the traveller asked patch. The other nodded without turning his eyes off the screen.
All your life? Another nod. And you still can't see through the charade?
Bald patch was starting to feel annoyed. He turned back a reddening face. You call this a farce? he interrogated, pointing at the screen. I'd say we'll finally get what we were promised.
The subterranean knew what this was harkening back to. And you prefer that idea over having good relationships with your neighbours? He sensed his own blood heating up as well. We are doing fine, my friend, Catalunya is doing fine. We can still feel the recession but we stand a decent chance of growing out of the mess, we've got a strong base. You can be part of that if you want. Don't exclude yourself, don't watch Tele Madrid.
What do you know I am part of? patch exploded. He had turned away from the screen completely now. I know those Catalans and I don't trust them. I like Spain better.
But you live here. Are you unhappy?
Bald patch stared at him hotly. What kind of questions are you asking, mister? What is this asking, why don't you tell us who you are. You're indepe right? You're one of the traitors. You want to destroy Spain. His voice was sounding quite mad.
Who cares about Spain? the traveller threw wood on the fire with deliberate négligence. Spain is a lot of different people together. Fine, nobody disputes that idea. But we're talking about Barcelona and Madrid here. Why would we let Madrid grab our riches?
Bald patch was ready to say something seriously unfriendly when the barman intervened. No fighting, he shouted convincingly. Stop! Enough. You, he pointed at the traveller, go away.
But I was just having a pleasant conversation with this gentleman, the subterranean tried disingeniously.
Out, the barman yelled. Don't come back. He clearly meant it.
Grudgingly, the subterranean traveller lay one euro twenty on the counter and retreated. No hard feelings, españolista, I just wanted to hear your opinion. The other waived his hand dismissively.
What is it with those Chinese, the traveller thought, his anger subduing with him finding his stride again on the tranquil streets of his hometown, why do almost all of them put on such shite tv? Are they happy for things to go wrong? And why do people feed on it, right here where they can see with their own eyes it's all a load of crap? What drives people to want to be afraid of their circumstances? He probaby knew the answer to the last question better than he would have liked to admit.
Stealing a traffic light ahead of two racing motorbikes, the subterranean traveller scolded his ineptitude. He'd messed up quite badly there, he realised, only hardened positions. So much for his well-meant intentions. The traveller laughed. Savior of mankind has bad day at the office. He rummaged in his bag and pulled out a ready rolled marihuana cigarette. Not much to be done now, so best to forget.

German punctuality

music to go: subterraneans

Taking the day train from Paris to Berlin last August, Trandi Romantic entered Germany for the first time in her life along the green hillsides of Saarland, where houses looked remarkably like those plastic ones in a miniature train set, complete with pine covered mini mountains to tunnel through. The day before, she and her travelling companion had admired the Gallo-Roman architecture of Southern France from their carriage window, now they were in Märklin land. At Mannheim station they were to transbord from their French TGV onto a German IC to take them directly to Berlin. According to our tickets, we have thirteen minutes to change over, the subterranean traveller remarked, and since we are running a bit late, we'd better run for it as those German trains always run on time. But surely they will wait for us, Trandi supposed, as we can't be the only ones to travel further. Let's hope so, the subterranean said, all I know from travelling by train in this country is that they always leave on time. They love their punctuality and they are proud of it.

As it so happened, their train would be leaving from the other side of the platform they disembarked upon and it was running ten minutes late. Great, the traveller exclaimed, just enough time to get me one of those famous beers before we continue. He took the stairs down and soon reemerged with some drinks and sandwiches. I believe they are broadcasting news about our train, Trandi told him, I could pick up the word Berlin but not much more. I guess we´ll find out soon enough, the traveller said dryly. There was now a car seating displayed above their heads and some German was sounding. He could pick out the word sieben. There seems to be something wrong with one of the cars and I believe it's ours. Wrong? Trandi asked. In Germany? The entering train answered her question when upon slowing down in front of their eyes car six jumped to eight and they, and a good deal of people with them, began swarming the platform attendant to demand where wagon sieben was. It turned out there was none. Was soll denn das? the travellers with their seat reservations asked incredulously. Although they were German, and the subterranean could follow their tongue much better now, they equally seemed flabbergasted by the sudden disappearance of a complete wagon. The attendant, a fattish sixty year old in short sleeves who was sweating nonetheless, turned all red in the beefy face and cried against so much insistence: Ich hab' keinen Wagen sieben! Geht doch hin, nach eins. Stunned, the passengers started entering wagon six, sure to be on board and then find their way to the promised seats in one, all up front. Much fewer dared the faster route outside, our friends picking up a few cars to jump ahead in the trail. And so they ended up in wagon one, which was empty, and they filled it up like a cheap flight and at Frankfurt they turned around, as it is a terminal, and they were carried in the last car to Berlin, where they arrived at beer hour.

They lived off the Strassenbahn, Warschauer Strasse, in a pleasant interior new build hotel in Friedrichshain, with all that revolutionary stuff from when it suddenly happened fading away around them. Berlin had all gotten clean since the traveller's last visit in 2003, when it was already much cleaner than before. It was a happy town, mostly, where an absurd election campaign was going on. Everywhere you looked, Angela Merkel was telling us how well she had done once again, and none of the other contestants for the Kanzleramt challenged those words. They all promised slight change on safe subjects, from human rights to pensions and green energy, but nobody would mention the wars and Germany's standing in the world now that the financial rigging was becoming visible to many. Only the local minority radicals (who get remarkably more space than in Spain, where they would be prosecuted) were telling it like it is, so a Merkel win seemed assured. Newspapers were admitting to the mood, as they all wrote on the lack of Spritt in the campaign. Berliners didn't show much sorrow. They were enjoying the good weather amidst droves of tourists, Trandi and the traveller among them. It was like being in a giant Amsterdam.

Berlin is rich with history, immediately visible in its build up. There's the remaining parts in north and south, some of whom nineteenth century, further away the early principles of modern building, and then the various attempts at modernising in the devasted east-west central zone, from nowadays rich but boring Ku'damm to neues Mitte, quite ghastly, to be honest, I felt like being in of those Romantic era fascimile prints, but you would expect this place to come alive in some way; and then the former East corner, where another modernity has been swepped under to make way for an eighteenth century rebuild, to finally get to Alexanderplatz, still very much its old self, with some new constructions filling up old holes respectfully. It's all fake, of course, but at least it looks good. Berlin is a beautifully wounded animal, and it still harbours some sense of easily provoked resistance in less modernized neighbourhoods.

Trandi and the traveller found a bookshop on Karl Marx Allee, named after the street, which was closing and offering a firebrand sale of its stock and it so happened to be the final day. They were called into an office on the first floor and then led back downstairs to be locked in for an hour in a beautiful wooden bookstore, a vast cabinet basically, where thousands of books were still lingering, horribly mixed up. Silently, Trandi and the subterranean started scanning the shelves, each from a different corner, commenting on finds and sometimes walking over, as it was pure pleasure to tread those floors. Humidity was an absolute zero here. The traveller found some highly interesting kilo volumes which he impossibly could bring home and also a handful of super economical paperbacks from the nineteen sixties, which he bought for five euros. They felt the money wasn't worth the attention received.

This part of town was mostly bombed and burned out in the final battle for the city and in good communist fashion rebuilding started with the palaces for the rich, to set an example of the coming success. They did manage a reasonable level of consumerism in the seventies, though nothing like their neighbour. And when the neighbour started venturing off in all directions thanks to this thing called computer, it became clear they needed to be part of that, so they sought access to western markets. And when the pressure on the smugglers became unbearable, the floodgates were opened and east became west and west became east.

It's too bad politicians had to disturb these processes with their bullshit, as they will always do. On the wealth of old footage favourable to him that modern day visitors to Berlin are exposed to, mr Honnecker looks like an arrogant fool, not able to trust the people who resurrected their country without help from America. In return, the people couldn't trust their government and tried not to think of it. This lasted long enough to drive everybody crazy. They paid a heavy price, as West wasn't able to show mercy. Instead of modernizing their economy, West tore it all down. They're still lagging and will for a while longer. Ever since the first world war, these people have been on the receiving end.

Inevitable was a visit to mr B's flat, or rather the main door, and then a drink in his and Pop's hangout, where the same fans they'd seen outside were sitting. The traveller had a vodka and Trandi lemonade. There were photos hanging by a photographer she had met, B having fun some ten years ago. Is that close enough for you, Trandi asked. It was the day they ended up on Ku'damm, having sorbets and seeing beautiful closed bookshops. On the way home their S-Bahnfahrzeug had to be abandoned for lowly specified reasons.