Categories
Urban

Peregrine Nation: Poems about Travel and Displacement by Lucian Mattison

To survive the turbulent times, you have to appreciate and savour the small moments. Living in Santiago in 2011, social upheaval and teargas was constantly in the air. It didn’t seem like the ideal place for a timid northern European to be trying to eke out a living. Amid the chaos and violence brought about by student protests and the heavy-handed reaction of the authorities, I sought solace in games of football every Monday night with my mates.

We would play on the roof of a shopping centre in Bellavista de la Florida- foreigners versus Chileans usually (we’d win)- and then get the last metro back to the city centre for some beers at our favourite German Beer Hall. Once the pitchers and mountains of meat, aka chorrillana, had been cleared I’d walk home with my West Ham-supporting, American-Argentinian buddy Lucian, who lived on the street next to mine. The chats, the jokes, the street chicken we sometimes bought as we walked home along the peaceful midnight streets of the city are some of the most precious memories I have from my time in Chile.

I met Lucian in Santiago during orientation for the teaching placement programme we had signed up for and, pretty much straight away, I knew that he was my cup of tea: he was well travelled, funny, into (real) football and he was a creative thinker. I was a bit intimidated by his artistic talent, but in hindsight I think he helped to bring out my own talent for writing and art.

Early this year, I was delighted and not in any way surprised, to hear that he had written an award-winning book of poetry on his time in Santiago and his family’s home in Argentina. Peregrine Nation is a collection of works that focuses on physical place, home, and national identity, and how those elements can be explored within a person by seeing it being enacted by those around us. The following three poems are Lucian’s perceptions of the social tensions during our time in Santiago.

Canvas of Shields
– Santiago, Chile, 2012

Scarfed students throw sawed-
off plastic bottle halves
of turquoise, crack
carabineros on helmets, drip
celestial hues down plexiglas
shield partitions. Every soldier
is up to his knees in acrylic-
splatters of stars, splotch
of Pollux, mantled
cosmos over batons-
rainbow of No
cast across riot gear.
Masks weep onto olive drab,
bleed a city’s changing colors
from clothes to street, soldier
to art student, mouth
defiantly opening- distorted
metropolis, expressionist
uniform the new canvas.

“Canvas of Shields” reprinted from Peregrine Nation, winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, published by the Broadkill River Press, 2014.

September 11, 2013: Santiago, Chile
– 40 year anniversary of the Chilean coup d’etat

Two kilometers of students lie head
to toe in a line along the sidewalk
of a busy street. Backs the ground, they keep

an eye on the crowd of spectators.
Today, eleven minutes of silent demonstration
is time enough to make headlines, enough

time to ask that my northern half recognize
our invisible hand guiding the knife-
how we carved a wound in the Andes,

let people disappear before it was terror.
This human scar, out in plain sight, cuts through
the heart of the city, a single motionless line

of people from the Plaza Italia, downtown
to the Moneda palace steps, those same steps
where Allende was sh-

shot himself.
I realize, to those students streaked across
the pavement, even my voice has a double,

an emblematic bird and its dark shadow
that swiftly caresses their bodies from above.
My breath is the wind lifting the New World

vulture – just a whisper below the skin
of a cicatrix. I wish more of us could mourn
with them, but then again,

how are we supposed to remember a headline
that never made it in to our papers? We never
even needed to try to forget.

“September 11, 2013: Santiago, Chile” reprinted from Peregrine Nation, winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, published by the Broadkill River Press, 2014.

Neighborhood Protest of Liceo Hannover
Municipalidid de Maipu, Santiago, 2011

In a matter of days, avocados
fell from above, unripe, picked
from a nearby tree, and launched
over the school’s fence.
Fruit collected atop goal nets,
streaked viridescent across windows,
bruised aimlessly. Teachers
and parents gingerly picked them up
like defused grenades,
held them for all to see-
halt classes, demand the tree
be felled – as if the solution
were to extend a chain link
barrier up three meters
on all sides, and reopen the doors.

And for two days the fruit stopped,
and everything continued
as before, until one lunch
amplified into recess and store-bought
Pura Crema Palta rained down
overripe like gobs of green
pulp from a canopy line.
It was mythic- decaying fruit
materialized as if from prayer,
bursting neon on contact,
one hitting a thirteen-year-old
girl squarely in the eye,
her screams aimed at the nobody
that blinded her.

Teachers lifted her limp
body, held their hands over her
hands, pressed them to her face,
all these clenched fingers caked
as if stopping her green spirit
from leaking out of the wound.
Above the tears, insults cursing
the flaite trash that wouldn’t last
a day in private school, hung a veil
of awe – how these kids
still continued to fill their fists
with something like flowers,
and opened them again
to reveal grists of bees-
how they scattered in the air
above everybody’s heads.

“Neighborhood Protest of Liceo Hannover” reprinted from Peregrine Nation, winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, published by the Broadkill River Press, 2014.

Categories
Urban

Hipsters Know Best: What You Should Have Been Listening to in 2015

1 Sam Gellaitry – To Earth and Back

“Ba, Ba, BA!”, while hungover in Bosnia.

2. Jeremih – Oui

“Hey! there’s no oui without you and I, oh yeah, ah yeah ah ?? ??”, while trying to get a ticket to Hungary in a Serbian bus station.

3. The Internet – Under control

“I know I’m destined for greatness, fuck a critic’s advice They hatin’ ’cause I’m a player (hatin’ ’cause I’m a player)”, while boarding a plane to Bucharest.

4. Nosaj Thing – Don’t Mind Me ft. Whoarei

“I’ve been waitin’”, after being stood up in Romania by the previous nights hook-up.

5. Thundercat – ‘Them Changes’

“Somebody tell me how I’m supposed to feel When I’m sitting here knowing this ain’t real”, while taxing in Oman airport before taking off to France.

6. Oddisee – That’s Love

“And pick up pieces, and you off the ground, that’s love”, flying from Cambodia to Thailand while still very, very high.

7. Sángo – SPZRKT & Sango – JMK

“Never let me down since I made that decision” waking up to a gorgeous person that is now my ex-girlfriend in Lebanon

8. Mura Masa – Lovesick Fuck

“Come over here” sitting on a rooftop in Athens thinking I should’ve stayed in Albania longer.

9. Alba – Operator
“Operator”, thinking that Lithuania was the bee’s knees.

10. Lemonade – Dancer On The Shore (feat. Dee Dee)

“Tell me your secret”, while sitting in a café in Slovenia writing this- despite it being very cold.

Songs for becoming an adult

1) Kendrick Lamar – Alright

The centrepiece of the stunningly poignant To Pimp a Butterfly LP (with its defiantly mantra-like “We Gon’ Be Alright” chorus) has become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter activists – indeed, several commentators have referred to it as “the new Black American anthem”. The mantra is both comforting and commanding, both personal and collective. Amid several flow switches, Kendrick demonstrates both his technical virtuosity as a rapper as well as his potency as a lyricist, while Sounwave and Pharrell’s production is accented by Terrace Martin’s Coltrane-like alto sax (an element that recalls the score from Spike Lee’s opus, Do The Right Thing). Musically, politically, socially, and personally, this is both the best and the most important track of 2015.

2) Future – Codeine Crazy

Technically a Fall 2014 release, many/most rap fans only began to fully appreciate it after its stunning music video was released in February. Future dominated 2015 with 2 hit mixtapes, the rap album of the summer, and a best-selling collaboration ‘mixtape’ with Drake; however, this aching ballad (the highlight of last year’s Monster) is arguably the finest of his entire 2014/15 output. Regarded in some corners as a master of style over substance – a vocalist whose syrupy drawl could make the alphabet sound compelling – Future here showcases his incredible technical ability and his talent as a writer. A variety of rapid-fire flows fall over themselves as he crams an impressive volume of syllables into his lines; even at his most unstable, Future is fully in control. This is Future at his rawest and most personal, turning his post-Ciara pain into the realest music of his career. The frankness with which he drops revealing statements like “I’m an addict, I can’t even hide it” help make his purple-tinted vision of addiction seem enticingly beautiful in its perversion.

Young Thug – Raw (Might Just)
As with Future, the volume of high-quality music Young Thug released this year makes it seem unfair to narrow it to just one track, but Slime Season 2 standout Raw (Might Just) is a beautiful ballad that hints at Young Thug’s trap weirdo-pop-star potential. Treasure Fingers’ beat is built around a yearning vocal sample that seems to swallow itself up, and Thugga’s mixture of braggadocio, graphic sexuality, and honest romanticism recalls Pluto-era Future (and a certain type of Lil’ Wayne). As ever, Thug’s primary virtue is the unpredictability of his delivery; Raw is no different, with the staccatos of his raps alternating with warped, multi-layered croons and yelps to produce a surprisingly emotional sort-of-love song.

4) Post Malone – White Iverson
Post Malone scored one of the most unexpected Billboard hits of the year with this ode to everyone’s favourite practice-skipping shooting guard. From cars to clubs to campfires, this omnipresent anthem understandably soundtracked many summers. Producer FKi allows Post’s highly-musical, emotion-filled raps to take centre stage, as he delivers an extended metaphor comparing himself to the 76ers misunderstood phenom that is basically impossible not to sing along with.

5) Vince Staples – Norf Norf
Long Beach’s Vince Staples was one of the breakout acts of the year, with the autobiographical Summertime ’06 building off the goodwill generated by last fall’s Hell Can Wait EP. “Norf Norf” is one of many standout cuts on a fantastic LP, captivating from the opening line as he shouts out his new sponsor (“Bitch you thirsty, please grab a Sprite”). The menacing, thumping beat provides a perfect backdrop for Vince to introduce listeners to his cold world with a distinctive stoicism. In a year when fellow Odd Future alumni Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt both dropped highly-anticipated albums, Vince proved himself to be perhaps the most talented of the entire lot.

6) Kelela – Rewind
Kelela has earned rave reviews for her collaborations with some of the most forward-thinking names in club music, and there is perhaps no finer demonstration of her song-writing potential and her ear for interesting production than the Janet Jackson-esque ‘Rewind’. The trans-atlantic Night Slugs/Fade to Mind team adorn their typically chilly, club-ready beats with rapid-fire 808 claps that recall Miami bass. One of the hottest properties in underground R&B, Kelela’s singing is often sensuously breathy, but here she showcases some of her vocal acrobatics and a more earnest tone on the yearning chorus.

7) The Internet – Girl (feat. KAYTRANADA)
The centrepiece of The Internet’s fine Ego Death LP is one of 2015’s best love songs with Syd tha Kyd’s carefully delivered come-ons floating over a magnificent Kaytranada beat. The hallmarks of Kaytra’s sound – off-kilter drums, a kick that’s both punchy and pillowy, woozy synths – are combined with an entrancing horn loop, creating a gorgeous soundscape for Syd to play in; the former Odd Future DJ takes full advantage, using her seductive vocals to wonderful effect.

8) Jazz Cartier – Rose Quartz/Like Crazy
Jazz Cartier’s come-up has been quick and steady, with 2016 shaping up to be a huge year for the Toronto MC. While Jazz (among other Toronto rappers) has been criticized in some places for cutting too close to Travis Scott’s aesthetic, it’s hard to imagine many other rappers taking on this Toro Y Moi-flipping beat. Halfway through, dialogue from the 2011 romantic drama Like Crazy drops in and the beat switches up, as Jazz trades his liquid-like flow for one with a more emotional punch. This is the most immediately accessible cut from Cartier’s sprawling Marauding in Paradise, with a warmth and softness that seems better suited for the afterparty than for the club.

9) Tame Impala – Eventually
Australian psychedelic act Tame Impala have carved a niche for themselves as one of the only ‘rock’ groups that manage to balance critical success with festival main stage appeal. Currents (as most album reviews pointed out) is clearly a breakup album, with overt references to the end of a romantic relationship. Nowhere else is this more plain than on “Eventually”, with its patronizing refrain, “I know that I’ll be happier, and I know you will too…eventually.” The angelic quality of Kevin Parker’s infamously John Lennon-like voice makes his words sting all the more.

10) Jamie xx – Loud Places (feat. Romy)
Jamie xx’s highly-anticipated debut In Colour was probably the best full-length electronic album of the year. While his celebrated collaboration with Young Thug and Popcaan may have been many people’s song of the summer, the album’s real emotional highpoint was this lovely cut that saw Jamie reunited with one of his xx bandmates. Amid a backdrop that features uplifting keys and a typically stark and spiky guitar (before a splendidly lush soul sample on the chorus), Romy perfectly captures the romance of club going: “I go to loud places/to search for someone/to be quiet with”.

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Uncategorized

The Wagon Hall Series: Interview with Azeri Photographer Nihad Gulamzada

Nihad Gulamzada is a photographer that we’ve been fond of for a long time at No-Yolo. He’s a Baku native that has been working in photography since 2012. He is a student at Bakı Jurnalistika Məktəbi (Bau School of Journalism) where he is majoring in multimedia. In 2014, he won first prize in Take a true, a photography competition hosted by the organization Art for Democracy. He is also an actor and studied violin for a couple of years but was no good at it. He kindly agreed to answer some questions that we had for him about his work, Baku and its railways:

Since the independence of Azerbaijan, Baku has been awash with money from the oil revenue generated by SOCAR. There has been a tremendous amount of investment spent on infrastructure and construction that has transformed the city from a typical post-Soviet city into the Dubai of the Caucasus. How do you feel about this transformation?

This is too controversial of a topic. It is good if Azerbaijan, especially Baku, is compared to Dubai. However, the question is, “Are people happy in this beautiful ‘Dubai’?” Nope, I don’t think so. The money that is coming from the oil belongs to the people. It should be spent only for people but unfortunately it is not like that. Poverty is growing day by day. It is okay that glorious buildings are being built and some of us admire them from afar but can people enter those palaces? No they can’t. The reason why Baku looks beautiful is because it’s new facade is geared towards glamorous people. So, Baku looks happy but the population isn’t.

I first took notice of your photography because I thought they made Baku appear almost charmingly dark. They conflicted with the attempts by the Azeri state to advertise the city as this bastion of high fashion and fine dining. Despite the amazing economic growth of the city, the identity of Baku as a city has not been solidified in the public imagination in Western Europe/North America, unlike cities such as Moscow and Kiev. What makes Baku unique as a city? What is that distinctive cocktail of flaws and beauty that makes Baku what it is?

My photos indicate Baku’s real face but it isn’t always beautiful. What can I do if I see the ugliness of Baku every day? I must shoot what I see. Baku was a beautiful city in the past. For me, Baku now looks tired and miserable. It had sincerity in the Soviet period. It was poor but it was kind and had a good landscape. Today, Baku just looks like a girl with too much make up.

The government presents Azerbaijan’s national food all around the world but a normal Azerbaijani can only eat those meals during holidays. Azerbaijan was known for its rich culture but today it is declining. The arts are not supported and artists get no help from the government. The are only two independent theatres in Azerbaijan and they cannot pay their rent. Even governmental organizations try to ignore them. Look, that’s why today’s Baku is not old Baku. A city ignoring arts can only face a collapse. The young try hard to prevent it but they’re not supported.

It was interesting that you set this photo series at the railroad station because it offers a very symbolic contrast with the new image of Baku. The railroad system was infrastructure implemented by the Soviet Union whereas other modes of transportation, like the refurbished Heydar Aliyev International Airport, are utilized to present the new image of Baku. What aspect of the train station appealed to you?

Heydar Aliyev International Airport is really beautiful. It was supposed to be beautiful because it was named in memory of our current president’s father who also was the president before he died. That’s not true of our railroads. That infrastructure is a leftover from the Soviet times. I believe that it will be repaired right after it is named in honor of Heydar Aliyev. It will be number one in the world!

I live near to the station everyone knows as Old Station. I used to walk along its long platform. It was a calm and quiet area. Trains there carried mostly the poor passengers. I wanted to take many photos there but after three or four hours I could only manage to take seven pictures because it is forbidden to take photos while in the station. The police were preventing me, as you know. I was curious to take people’s photos while they were crossing very fast in front of me without stopping. It was a good landscape. It was peaceful for me. The train stopped and people were crossing. I could only take those photos in the series. Who knows how many millions of people had crossed there since the Soviet Union? How many people those trains had seen?

Lastly, you surely know from our communication No-Yolo firmly believes if you want to understand anything about a city then you must get drunk there. Where would you suggestion people get drunk in Baku?

Baku has got a lot of pubs and cafes, but I’d advise guys who would like to drink in a civil and quiet place to go to TRASH Art Cafe. This cafe is located inside a theatre. People would enjoy themselves quite a lot there. Actually, this cafe is specifically for people who value politeness and want to have fun in an enjoyable way. If you would like to just get drunk, you could go to the pubs near the Baku Train Station!

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Sex Uncategorized

There Is No “Oui” Without You And I: Defending Long Distance Relationships

I was scurrying out of the Airbnb that I had rented right next to the main square in Belgrade. It was mid November, so it felt bitterly cold, particularly since I had just arrived from the Middle East. What you don’t realize while living in the desert is that every temperature is going to be uncomfortable for the rest of your life: you’re going to sweat like a pregnant nun while in the desert and freeze your willy off once you enter any ecosystem below 20 C. Thus, I looked like a man readying himself for some polar exploration. I was indeed going north, however I was off to Budapest. Equally glamorous in my mind but admittedly less ambitious than the North Pole.

At that moment, I was feeling remarkably daring and ambitious. The day before I had tried to get a direct daytime ticket to Budapest but they were sold out. Instead, I was going to have to catch a bus to the northern Serbian city of Subotica then pray that tickets from there would be available to Budapest. Sure, this doesn’t seem overly complex but despite the amazing amount of traveling I’m always convinced something horrible will always happen. Due to some sort of obsession with having to have everything organized, this appeared rather daring in my mind.

Luckily for my overzealous need to be timely, I got down to the bus station way too prematurely and was an hour early for the bus. I needed to eat so I stepped into the café and managed to get some vegetarian food through using my broken Russian, which is a sort of linguistic cousin to Serbian. I quickly placed on my headphones and put on the newest Jeremih record. The entire album is a rather debauched listen with a lot of soft falsetto whispers telling women the amazing pleasure that he’ll bring them. A man of my modest charisma and looks would never try such shit. The man has to be a pervert or horribly desperate to try those lines out, unless he happens to have millions of social media subscribers. The ladies working at the counter, who had decorated it with Orthodox icons of Christ, would have had some choice words if they knew the perversion I was enjoying in their midst.

Throughout this bombast of sensual pleasure, there was one track that entirely broke from that pattern. The track Oui had that sort of lyrical genius that only a very daft man or poetic genius could manage: “There is no “Oui” without you and I.” It was so elementary and basic in its character. Life ceases to hold that unlimited possibility once that other is gone. All else feels void when apart from that person. What amounts to nothing more than an English grammar pun expresses that emotion that drives us to be our best and worst person. I am a sucker for culture that’s not exactly high minded and it might not be exactly William Blake class but I don’t think you’re going to find wiser words about love in this decade of excess.

I was feeling weirdly amorous but also bittersweet while listening to this song. I had been spending my entire time in Belgrade with a beautiful accountant who was fond of jazz but I knew that it would go nowhere in the long run. I also knew that I’d certainly end up hooking up with a girl in Budapest, as was my habit whenever I traveled alone.

Feeling amiss, I listened to this track over and over while reflecting upon travel and romance. Never at any point in time is it easier to meet people, hook up, and constantly find that boost to your ego. For a while, it is cool and you feel like you’re that person. What the majority learns sooner than later though is that although it’s fun for a short time, it is ultimately empty. The basic foundations that we all assumed from the start were true. Only expressing a mélange of care and honesty to that person/s while committing to being your best person is the only chance for real happiness. This certainly doesn’t apply for all, but a good majority of us will find this to be true.

The natural reaction to all these emotions is a change in lifestyle, to find someone, and give them a chance. But like all simple answers, circumstance manages to problematize that. I am like many others, in that my professional and lifestyle choices mean that I’m rarely in the same place for a sustained period of time. Cultivating any sort of relationship is amazingly difficult when the only commitment that you’ll positively be able to keep up is not losing your passport while on a night out in Ethiopia. That doesn’t imply inherently that you must sleep around and have aimless relationships. If you’re feeling in love and brave then, just maybe, a long distance relationship might be for you.

Placing the words “long distance relationships” in that particular order rarely garners a pleasant reaction. Relationships of the long distance variety are viewed as emotionally taxing, highly prone to collapse, and a horrible investment of the prime years of our lives. Any list of The Ten Solutions To Making A Long Distance Relationship Work are void of any substance and just serve to remind you of the complete absurdity of it all. There is little denying that long distance relationships deserve much more than that. With all these considerations, I’m still not one to discount cuddling the absurd.

The dreadfully wonderful aspect of life is that while traveling there is a probable chance that you’ll meet someone that will change your life. In many ways, love and travel are logical partners. They are both one of the few areas that allow us to feel idealistic about ourselves. The joy that we gather from the places we travel to and the people we fall for deserve our best, and in keeping with that promise we push ourselves to a higher station. More functionally, travel enables us to break from the confinements of life and find people that we don’t simply live close to, but have a substantial connection with. You don’t meet someone traveling that you ‘settle’ with. You meet people you actually adore.

The moment you meet that special person will be nothing less than an abrupt and sudden break from the past, because you made the decision to love. Prior concerns will be reduced to white noise that acted to mask what was the real priority: that one whose ability to make love is disrupted by fits of laughter when revealing how awkward it is to listen to Meu Glorioso São Cristóvão while naked; that one with whom you share a notepad of countries that must be visited by year’s end just to make excuses to see each other; and the one that just smiles when you return to the hotel loaded after watching Spurs lose, saying “it is okay to take advantage of me”, just before drunkenly passing out on the bed because she knows that you’ll sleep more still thus being able to hold you throughout the night.

The calculus that rendered all the monotonous details of your life as just had an extra variable added. Sadly, while traveling, that means there is a very good chance that person is going to be far, far away and you’re going to know that without them the entire logic of life will be warped and unfulfilling. You’ll be in love, and you’ll be fucked.

Once the realization becomes apparent that no emotional wealth is worth going without that person’s presence then you’ll make the painfully discomforting decision to plunge yourself into a long distance relationship. It would be cheap at this point to suggest a long line of tips and ideas to make it easier. It will be nothing less than dreadful. It never gets easy but there are comforts to take. If we understand love to be not just an emotion but a process, then we can see it as an ongoing series of complex interactions involving people who care for one another. Barthes articulates this idea more eloquently in his frequently quoted statement from A Lover’s Discourse,

“Am I in love? –yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”

That waiting which Barthes speaks about is the anxiety that comes from the lack of any affirmation. In relation to distance, it would seem to just exasperate that anxiety: Is that person with someone else? Will it ever come to an end? However, if we think of waiting in a slightly different way then a certain comfort can come about.

I believe a certain bittersweet joy can come out of a long distance relationship that is distinctively beautiful in a way that a normal relationship is incapable of. You will wait. You will wait for a response for a Whatsapp message. You will wait in airports. You will wait for people to feel like themselves again so that they can make this relationship work. With that waiting, you will certainly pause not to focus on the micro details of a relationship that diminishes the luster of it. You will have the space and ability to focus on the broader issue that this isn’t just someone that lucked their way into your life. You will speak for hours through every medium of conversation that will allow you to appreciate the depths of their personality.

You will have that space to be idealistic about this person and not allow silly shit like who used the last bit of the toothpaste to drag down a relationship. You’ll be reminded periodically that this person doesn’t present a massive crescendo in your life but the one whose existence makes those small moments of life bearable.

Despite the distance and all that pain, you know life becomes far more possible with them. I don’t doubt that eventually you’ll want to live closer together but there is something almost refreshing and compelling about having this space apart with someone you really feel like you have something special with. Take a twisted pleasure in missing that person, knowing that your love hasn’t been made dull by monotony. You will be with them because they’re not just someone who is a convenience but a person that you adore, love, and want to create something special with. So please, don’t just see the negativity of long distance relationships but see them as a chance.

Don’t believe what you’ve heard
‘Faithful’s’ not a bad word
Oh, won’t you save these bachelor kisses now
They’re for your brow
Oh, won’t you save these bachelor kisses now
They’re for your brow

Categories
Sex

I Talked to an Ex-Prostituted Woman in Amsterdam and Learned an Important Lesson

“I don’t really know where I stand as for the legalization of prostitution, because I’ve never talked to someone who’s been in it”.

“Well, you are now”.

This was the beginning of one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had, on a windy summer morning in the city of Amsterdam. For hours, this amazing woman and I talked about the myths and truths of the “oldest business in the world”, and by the time we said goodbye the way I saw the world had meaningfully changed.

For the past few years I had been noticing an uprising of posts and articles online by feminist women praising the ‘sex workers’ and defending their right to sell sex if they choose to do so. “It’s their body and they can do what they want with it” – and it sure is hard to disagree with such a statement. However, after this conversation, I became very skeptical about what ‘choosing’ really means when speaking of prostitution. After all, no choice is a choice if it’s not a free choice.

Most women who escape prostitution suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, on a similar or higher rate than war veterans, this lady told me. She has been working with them for years, helping them out, and she experiences it herself. And while media and mainstream movies sell us the myth of the shy, lonely, insecure guy who never gets laid and needs the help of an amused prostitute to get some experience, reality is very different: most clients are actually married men who know exactly what they’re doing and seek in prostitution what their wives don’t (or wouldn’t) allow them to do in their bedroom.

This, of course, doesn’t imply the type of fun, kind sex that the lonely boy would be seeking, where the lady has control on herself and teaches him what to do – but the objectified use of a woman’s body to fulfil every sexual practice that would embarrass the man outside of that environment, from scatology to violence.Where control lays means everything. And the client, as we know, is always right.

So ok, we all know that most prostituted women are forced to take this life, but what about the ones who do it because they want to? Why do they choose it? Or why don’t they leave once they realize what’s behind?

“Because they don’t know any better” were the exact words she used to answer this question.There is a strong link that connects poverty and child sexual trauma to ‘chosen’ prostitution. When a woman has no resources, or hasn’t been able to access an education, or has suffered from sexual abuse as a child, it is not difficult for her to fall into the prostitution net. As this brilliant article points out, many of the women in this business were just little girls when they started. Long story short, abusive sex gets normalized from a young age and ends up being used as a way to earn money. And the longer you’ve been in, the more difficult it is to leave.

“But prostitution prevents rape!”, some say – I might even have found myself saying this at some point of my life. This assumption is not only misleading, but also dangerous. It is misleading because, if a man is as violent as to be likely to rape a woman in the street (plus risking being sent to prison), there is no reason why he wouldn’t be likely to be violent towards a prostitute – the issue here is if we care as much for one as for the other. But, most of all, this statement is dangerous because of the way it deals with the problem of rape – if a man feels the desire to force a woman to have sex with him, by offering him a gateway we are basically validating this desire, instead of fighting to eliminate it. Not to mention the cherry on top of the cake – that this ‘gateway’ is an actual human being.

The truth is that many of the “sex workers” praisers are white, middle-class feminists (just like myself) who, despite their best intentions, haven’t interacted directly with the environment of prostitution and take for granted that choice is, in this context, a free concept (just as I used to!), and thus they speak in the name of women they’ve never met or talked to. And this happens to allies in every social movement. We tend to put words on the victims’ mouths and validate our opinion without listening to them. It happens to us all and it is an issue not only in activism, but in worldwide society, that we can only get rid of by being aware of it.

What I learned that afternoon was not only that I stand for the abolition of prostitution and the criminalization of its clients – but a broader, deeper lesson: that, no matter our position regarding a specific issue, the process to form an opinion should include listening to the people affected by whatever it is that we are trying to defeat or defend. This basic idea, I found, is essential to have the freedom to change our minds.

And travelling, once again, is sometimes the most fulfilling and effective way to do so.

Categories
Sex Tourists

Power Produces Desire: Sex Tourists

The sex tourist encapsulates the most oppressive tropes of the modern man by targeting those women that are most economically insecure.

I do a lot of aimless travel. I never really do any research before going on a holiday apart from having a quick look around for a place to stay, some decent bars, a couple of places to eat that have vegetarian food (I’m pretty particular about that), and maybe a wee bit of Tindering for the laugh. I’m interested in the really banal and monotonous aspects of a new city, which I used to enjoy on various jaunts with an ex-girlfriend of mine (before we broke up) but on a more regular basis with a handful of friends who have a lot of time off and some disposable income. One Danish mate makes more money off social welfare in his home country than most working Europeans do. He knows he’s a cunt for this.

Last month, after becoming horribly jaded in Athens by Americans and Australians who practice a certain jock-strap style of tourism, my Danish buddy and I decided to go to Kiev. Logically, we reasoned, with a war going on, there wouldn’t be much in the way of tourism over there. As jocks tend to not read the news, they made a point of avoiding Kiev, even though the war is happening in the eastern Donbass region. Still, in spite of the long distance from the front line, there are a lot of lads in military outfit and wearing Ukrainian t-shirts on the streets of Kiev, although nothing too out of the norm (I was there before things blew up with Russia). Kiev in 2015 is, all things considered, pretty status quo, without too many disruptions to its citizens, except it is a bit harder to fire an AK-47. No joke! The military needs to conserve the bullets for knocking off some of Putin’s guys in the east.

We checked into a pretty nice hostel in the center of the city. I could tell the bed across from me was occupied as it had army patterned clothing strewn across it, so I knew a particularly fucked individual was going to be sleeping across from me. The next morning, I was awoken by the sound of my new neighbor- a gentleman from one of the southern US states by the sound of his drawl- calling the Azeri dude who was also staying in the hostel a “Russian nigger”. He later claimed, in all seriousness, that the white man was the most oppressed race in American culture.

I already had him sussed. Being in Ukraine and hearing a dude that you wished had zero curiosity to bother getting a passport, I knew we had a sex tourist on our hands. I was repulsively fascinated by him, like the abnormally large dump I had taken while traveling around India, in that it posed more questions than answers. Sure enough, he turned out to be a card-carrying, platinum-member, sex tourist. Absolute cunt.

I’m embarrassingly and morbidly intrigued by the species known as the male sex tourist. I like watching Netflix documentaries on them when I’m hungover. Anthropologically, they’re an amazing anomaly. As humans, they’re one or two steps below John Terry on the Prickchart; and those are depths that are difficult to plunge.

My curiosity with sex tourists started back in 2012, when I was sitting in a café on my first trip to Kiev. I spotted a pretty attractive blonde women sitting down with what could be described as nothing less than your regular truck-driving, gun-toting American guy; probably named Mark. The North Face jacket was the giveaway. Also, the barbed wire tattoo on his bicep. She told him that their hotel room would be ready in an hour. They sat down with coffee and she brought him over some magazines, including a Playboy (this isn’t uncommon in the former Soviet Union. They must have extremely well-written articles). Flicking through the pages, he would unashamedly and loudly compare the models’ breasts to the woman he was sat with. It was one of the most grotesque encounters I have ever witnessed.

This was less so perplexing than when he decided he didn’t want to read anymore, and wanted to talk. He didn’t suggest a conversational subject and didn’t look to intrigue or humor her. He just assumed that she ought to captivate his interests, regardless of her desire to do so. There was the presumption that regardless of her wants, needs, or general happiness that he could control the situation. It was so disgustingly dehumanizing.

Once you take notice of it, you come to realize that prostitution is an industry which is so pervasive across the world that it is almost obfuscate by how clearly it is practiced, despite being shrouded in horribly exploitative and demeaning activities. If you were to go into any bar from Marrakech to Siem Rep to Medellin, you’ll almost certainly see a number of people soliciting themselves, or people who are in far worse situations. Conceptually, it appears deviant and strange but on closer inspection, particularly in Third World countries, it is ingrained within the economic structures.

With the ease of travel increasing remarkably, prostitution has taken on an increasingly transnational dimension with the emergence of ‘sex tourism’. It differs from conventional prostitution in that is doesn’t just seek to exchange capital for sex, but rather it sees individuals utilizing their economic power to gain sexual control over economically oppressed individuals while traveling. This is why it traditionally occurs within developing countries like the Ukraine, Thailand, Colombia, etc. where primarily, but not exclusively, women are marginalized and excluded from the labor workforce. By entering into the sex industry, it offers a pathway for those women to sustain themselves and their families.

Men from across the world travel to these countries with the intention of receiving sexual gratification on account of their superior economic status. In what they are lacking in sexually and emotionally within their countries of residency, these males are able to easily find within these poorer nations. With their economic dominance, they can serve those needs.

What is so problematic and disturbing about this interaction is the racial dimension that engenders the discourse of why these men decide to visit a specific place. Regularly on marriage tour websites, you see reference to Thai and other South-East Asian women as ‘submissive’, Colombian and Latina women are ‘hot blooded’, while Ukrainian and other Slavic women are labelled ‘elegant’.

These discourses construct these women as fulfilling the needs that the sex tourist assumes women in their own countries have constantly neglected and have been unwilling to uphold. These women become the erotic “Other..” What plays out of this is a longstanding racist and sexist interaction within a political economy that is exploitative and disenfranchising. It doesn’t offer economic security but merely sustains and supports economic and sociopolitical circumstances that are already oppressive to women. From a post-colonial lens, these guys are hateful wankers.

The women that work within the sex industry absolutely do not deserve to be stigmatized or criticized for their actions; they are regularly forced to do it so that they can provide for their children and families. However, those men that travel around the world with the intention of acting out their racist and misogynistic fantasies in poverty-stricken areas deserve nothing but our absolute hatred and contempt. These individuals uphold the most oppressive tropes of the modern man and target those women that are most economically insecure, because surely they’re the only ones capable of being in the presence of these half humans. Those men that partake within this grotesque industry should be shamed and made pariahs. And Christ, they should stay away from my fucking hostels.

Categories
Sex Tourists

“I Only Have Friends Because I Killed All My Enemies”: Come to Moldova!

The Republic of Borduria, the Kingdom of Syldavia: if you grew up obsessed with the adventures of Tintin, like me (my granddad even taped the tv-series on VHS for my brother and me every week), you know what I am talking about. Borduria was even way ahead of its time, depicting a black hipster moustache on its red post-war flag, and the Syldavian national dance is called blushtika, meaning goat dance twisting, which is basically what every national dance comes down to. Modelled after south-east European countries, both fictional places are mountainous, struggling with authoritarian regimes and have Slavic-inspired languages. The only incongruity would be that Syldavians, much to Captain Haddock’s disgust, are very fond of a local mineral water called Klowaswa and less so of alcohol, which would of course never happen in this part of the world.

These countries, I imagine, are the fictional alter egos of one of Europe’s least-known states, or hidden gems, as you wish: Moldova. To give a more real-life and politically engaged justification for this article, Moldova has seen a lot of political protests lately, but few Western media bother to actually cover news from Europe’s poorest country. Yet with an influential figure threatening to release sex tapes of a prominent government-critical journalist, secretly filmed at her own home, we are sure many would actually be interested.

Growing tired of the corrupt political establishment, which is heavily controlled by oligarchs, both pro-Russian and pro-European groups took to the streets in January. Last year, about 1 billion euro worth of Moldovan lei, which amounts to a whopping 14% of the country’s GDP, ‘disappeared’ from three local banks. Bizarre. This doesn’t mean, however, that there is no point in going there. Imagine, if anything, they could use your sensibly spent tourist money more than ever!

Many people with a deviating idea of tourism go to Moldova only as a starting point for visiting the breakaway republic of Transnistria. Whichever motive you may have, there is still plenty of fun to be had in and around Chisinau, the capital of this former Soviet republic. No-Yolo loves Moldova and here’s why:

The wine! The food!

Gastrotravel is one of the healthiest motivations to travel. Moldovan wines, alongside the Georgian produce, used to be the most highly regarded in the Soviet Union. Still today, apart from remittances sent by Moldovan workers abroad, its economy heavily relies on agriculture and the export of wine to Central and Eastern Europe in particular. We were there. We tried it. We loved it. Moreover, the country sports some underground tunnels which function as wine cellars with massive collections, some of which stretch over a 100 kilometres and are accessible by car only. Vladimir Putin reportedly celebrated his 50th birthday in one of them, the grown-up and endlessly cooler equivalent of celebrating your birthday at McDonald’s.

The surroundings of the cave monastery of Orheiul Vechi need to be explored

We know Pippi Longstocking was made up by Astrid Lindgren and is supposed to be Swedish, but we found out where she actually lives. Miss Longstocking is known for her quirky sense of adventure and that’s why she chose to move her whole animal bonanza to Butuceni, the village right on the other side of Orheiul Vechi.

If mass tourism existed in Moldova, Orheiul Vechi is what would come closest to its star attraction. Up to a dozen tourists visit this ancient orthodox monastery cave site every day, with convenient amenities such as a permanently closed restaurant next to the cave and a spacious parking lot for the couple of buses and minibuses serving this national heritage site daily.

Opt out of being shown around by a guide and have a look at the monastery yourself, then walk to the village of Butuceni on the other side of the hill. Such an original way to describe a small picturesque village, but time really appeared to have been standing still here. Villagers still get their water from wells; small and colourful orthodox shrines are on display here and there; chickens and other poultry are freely rummaging around and grannies with floral headscarves can be found in the vegetable gardens in front of their brightly painted houses, peacefully harvesting tasty tomatoes as pink and misshapen as a seasoned alcoholic’s nose. Sure, the cave is impressive and everything, but this village is the true star of the Orheiul Vechi region.

You can get some cool insiders’ stories from the minority community residing in Chisinau

When your No-Yolo reporter was visiting Moldova, she was kindly invited to stay with a queer immigrant who was working at the university at that time. He was an amazing person: warm, kind-hearted, hospitable and funny. Telling many stories about his experiences living in Moldova, one of the stories impressing most was the one about the Gay Pride in Chisinau a number of years ago. We envisioned a sizeable parade of people in exuberant dress celebrating diversity, only to find out the truth was soberingly different. Basically it came down to a handful of bored dudes in a bar having a beer, with some buff security outside the entrance to make sure no malicious parties could enter.

You can take observing and being observed to the next level

Even the most well-willing enthusiasts will admit there is not that much to see in tiny Moldova. The main attractions are Chisinau (which, in itself, does not have that many sights actually), Transnistria, Orheiul Vechi and the Milestii Mici and Cricova wine cellars.

Congratulations! This is when you really appeal to your own creativity as a traveller. The best moments in Moldova were basically created out of boredom and took place in the most basic of situations: visiting a market and watching the people doing trivial every day things like buying fish and vegetables; and drinking serious servings of draft wine (the smallest glasses available were 0,5l) at the super-seedy pint-sized bar next to the market, where moustached men got their pre-shopping shot of vodka and accompanying pickle and elderly ladies downed their pints of beer faster then we did.

This is also when you find out about some cool but useless facts about the country. Did you, for example, know that they have an enormous assortment of different flavours of toothpaste in Moldova? Some of them seem to cost half the local monthly salary, but we sympathize with the fact that Moldovans are adventurous brushers and appreciate cocktails such as charcoal/pine needle and chilli/strawberry. They surely deserve some credit for that!

Last but not least, Moldova is also a good place if you like spotting T-shirts with interesting messages printed on them. Among the winners are “Very Likely To Steal Your Boyfriend”, “I Only Have Friends Because I Killed All My Enemies” and “I Do One-Night Stands”.

The parks have free wi-fi. Eat that, sceptics!
Moldova is not some sort of backwards country where people have never heard of digital technology (if anything, that would apply to yours truly) and are hanging out squatting down, chomping on cabbage all day. The centrally-located parks are actually worth visiting for many reasons, and the wi-fi thing is the least interesting one of them. They are nicely designed, clean and an ideal base for relaxing with a beer, enjoying some nice food and watching the intriguing-looking Moldovans walk by. One of life’s truest pleasures – no smartphone required.

Cliché alarm: people might seem distant or shy at first but are very welcoming
Apart from the good experiences we had on the spot, we found a charming  offering accommodation and tours in Moldova. Run by a Moldovan lady residing in England, she offers people to stay in Chisinau with her mother Katherine and her partner Boris, who can be your personal driver on request. They appear in various pictures around the website, smiling and awkwardly waving at the camera, but even though “they are very lovely people, unfortunately, none of them speak any English”. Apart from the flat in Chisinau, which by the way does not have a computer with internet access but “a few open wi-fi connections can be received at the bedroom window”, on offer are also various tours, transfers and a flat in Transnistria with a 24-hour elevator and the access code to the front door stated on the website. The section that features feedback from guests has one message, written by ‘Frenchman’ and printed in red letters, saying it was the worst experience of his life. Though, to be fair, this was about him being denied at the Transnistrian ‘border’ and most likely has nothing to do with his host.

Anyway, we know and understand you aim to be as heroic, intelligent, adventurous and savagely attractive as Tintin. We all do. But as long as Captain Haddock is in rehab, Brussels is recovering from a lockdown, Herge is being accused of having Nazi sympathies and Borduria and Syldavia continue to be fictional: visit Moldova and create your own goat dance twisting, wi-fi ignoring, Pippi Longstocking-hunting adventure.

Categories
Identity Urban

A Night in a Squatted Dungeon: What I Learned From Re-imagining Spaces

There is an expression in Spain that could be translated as “a goat will always go to the mountain”, which basically means that we tend to walk in directions that are inherent to us. As the rusty-hearted stubborn goat I am, two weeks ago I travelled back to my beloved Amsterdam once again, although we (yes, this time it was a “we”, but that’s a whole different story) weren’t going to stay in anyone’s apartment. Fran – my adventure companion – and I had been invited by a friend to stay in Spinhuis, one of the last illegal squats in Amsterdam, and so we spent one of our nights there.

Now, I had been in squats before, attending events or performing in them. But I had never stayed overnight, sleeping in as a guest – neither had Fran. We were both fairly excited, yet nervous. We didn’t want them to take our enthusiasm as touristic voyeurism.
That night we entered the place, hungry, tired and soaking wet from the rain. It was a subtly hidden space under a bridge, below the water level of one of the main canals of the city. As our friend pushed the ramshackle door open, we entered a wide, beautiful room made of brick under an oval ceiling. The first thing I did was slip and fall down the short stairs at the entrance in front of everyone. I can travel like a bad bitch, but elegance is not a gift I’ve been blessed with.
However, it wasn’t long until we had a beer in our hands, talking to whoever wanted to talk to us – friendly people of different ages and genders who explained more about where we were. Apparently, the squat used to be an old dungeon from centuries ago which they found by chance and decided to bring back to life, since no one was using it. I have to say, this is the strangest place I’ve ever watched a comedy movie at.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t grown up with the concept of space as something of questionable use. I mean: a house is a place to live in, a school is a place to go every day and learn (ha, I know, but that’s another topic) and a train station is where you take the train. That’s it. But when you start travelling, te use of spaces becomes suddenly relative and mixed. You start seeing possibilities in spaces that aren’t meant for them: Is it illegal to sleep at that train station? How about changing clothes in that public library? Will they let me shower at that war veterans’ center if I ask nicely? And, of course, if a certain place is actually in use, its given purpose should be respected – but what if the new one doesn’t collide with the original one? What if it’s actually not even being used? Squatted abandoned places such as Spinhuis are not only a practical solution to the lack of homes and cultural centres in cities, but they are also a reminder of the possibility of redefining spaces. After all, a squatted dungeon was, to us, home for one night.

Of course, there is an important point that, despite being obvious, should be remarked – and that is the fact that sometimes (without going further, in the case of some of the inhabitants of Spinhuis), making a home out of a space that isn’t supposed to be home is not a choice, but a hard decision born out of the lack of possibilities. There are many reasons why someone would decide to squat, but some of them find its origins in a given lack of privilege and some others don’t. The necessity of re-imagining spaces is sometimes a survival one, and we should always remember that when we are lucky enough to just plunge into playing with it.

If we take this subject back to travelling, though, our perspective changes. During a low budget trip, for instance, the process of imagining the possibilities of a certain space is usually a fun game born out of the need to supply basic necessities such as shelter or personal hygiene with little or no money. This is why we don’t see space as something questionable in our everyday sedentary lives – because we don’t have to. And for this reason I believe that mainstream tourism equals to moving your comfort zone to a different place – you use spaces (hotels, restaurants) as they’re meant to be used. Non-low-budget travelling implies little or none problem solving. Unless, of course, you call problem solving to deciding if the hotel bartender will give you the dirty look if you ask for a margarita on a Tuesday at 1pm.

However, the fun starts when you’ve learned this vital lesson on spaces and then you travel back home.

If you live in Madrid, there is a tiny, minuscule possibility that you’ve heard about a place called El Tipi. When you look it up, you’ll see it is some sort of cultural space in an apartment in the centre of the city, where its three inhabitants organise concerts, workshops and sometimes crazy shit like horror tours. And they do it all for free.

Well, that place is my apartment.

When my roommate Pablo and I moved in together almost a year ago, we didn’t know each other at all and the apartment had no furniture. Everything was literally a blank space. And, just like in life, things developed in the following order: first, we covered the basic necessities furnishing the house (mostly, from furniture we found in the streets). Meanwhile and afterwards, we became friends. And, finally, we created this artistic project together where our later-to-be new roommate Eva jumped in immediately.

There is a certain charm in performing in front of an audience in the same living room in which you blow your disgusting nose over a bowl of soup and a pack of ibuprofens whenever you catch a cold. The barrier between private and public seems to fade out for a few hours and, before you call me a communist, let me tell you that it’s still us who pays for the bills and cleans the apartment after everyone leaves to make it, once again, our own home. But the most fulfilling part is that we don’t do it out of a tangible necessity. We have chosen to redefine the concept of home just because we can and we play with its possibilities because it is fun and it makes us grow creatively speaking. Well, and also because sometimes people bring food.

Whether it is for survival or for fun, re-imagining the use of a certain space has the astonishing effect of opening your mind to question everything further than that, from the use of any inanimate object to what we actually need to live happily. And so, as this happens, you become a more imaginative person, and thus freer, because you find more ways to solve given situations. My roommates and I didn’t have a venue where we could organise shows, so we created one in our living room. The last night of our trip Fran and I didn’t have where to stay, so we built a pseudo-camp in the airport with sleeping bags and our worn-out clothes. Slowly, reality shows itself mouldable and full of possibilities, like a game, just as it used to when you were a child – long before you actually started listening to things like “girl, the supermarket is not a playground!”

But then, one day, you turn around and say “or is it?”… and that’s when everything changes.

Categories
Identity

Eat, Pray, Love, or Better Yet: Don’t Ask, Don’t Question, Don’t Investigate

This article is purely ironic on some stereotypes. If you’re a touchy person, I’m really sorry for you and your inability to detect sarcasm.

When you’ve been travelling for a while, you understand that there’s so much more to be learned from it than just eating new and weird stuff, getting used to drinking at non-conventional times (times for which your mother would call you an alcoholic) and using transportation that looks as if it’s come straight from the 80’s. The most challenging part of travelling is getting in touch with the locals. Yes, the people that are staring with disappointment at you, at your clothes and your backpack. They are the ones with clean hair, who remind you of the fundamental, life-changing power of a shower; even if you’re not meeting anyone you know.

So yes, meeting locals is a tough challenge, especially in countries where English knowledge is not so widespread. And even if you manage to find your way through the language and cultural barriers, you may notice that there are some topics that aren’t actually good for light conversations. Topics that may, inadvertently, hurt the delicate sensibility of your conversation partner, leading to unwanted misunderstandings and to the premature end of a promising new friendship. Topics you should shut the fuck up about if you want to enjoy a nice evening.

Just a quick summary of my own conjectures: you don’t want to address guns in the US, prostitution in Thailand, the government in China, homosexuality in Russia or aged cheese in France. It is highly probable that you’re going to have to listen to an endless monologue about topics you have no clue about and may not agree with your new acquaintance.

So here I provide you with a short, life-saving guide to the worst conversation topics you could think of while in Italy. Thank me later.

Berlusconi

Let’s start with the obvious.
I know you may feel the uncontrollable urge to express your opinion on politics or to just mockingly ask “What country would keep on voting for such a figure?”. I mean, the guy was fucking chicks in the parliament and jerking around other Prime Ministers and similar shit for twenty years. The thing is, you don’t really want to hear the answer. There are three possible answers and every one of them is equally going to waste your time.

1. “Oh well, he did actually do some good things”. You’ve met a Berlusconi supporter. You still have some seconds left to run away and save your ass before having to hear the wonders of Berlusconi’s economic miracle of the 90’s.

2. “It’s a bit more complicated than this”. The complete history of post-war Italian politics is awaiting you following this sentence, in a pathetic attempt to try and convince you of the fact that the country is not completely fucked up.

3. “He is the representation of the old political robbery, which must disappear”. Maybe it sounds nice to you, my naïve companion. Sadly this individual is going to trap you in an irrational spiral of conspiracy theories about ‘chemtrails’ and Big Pharma bullshit – after trying to get you to take part in a Cinque Stelle meet-up. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you lucky mate, please listen to me and blow.

Food

I’m sorry, I must recommend that you avoid the food topic, too. The person in front of you may think of you as a stereotypical foreigner eating pasta with ketchup – and is not going to recognize your culinary expertise. Even if you can prove your knowledge of real, proper, traditional Italian food® there is always going to be a better pizza, lasagne or gelato than the one you proclaim to know. Trying to debate food could be like “trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.” In a nutshell, spare yourself the time and frustration and just focus on beer, don’t try to compete with mamma’s wisdom.

The Church

Last but not least, it’s time for the enormous, stinky elephant in the room: the Church. Deep down there’s not much to say about it: I know that where you may come from Catholics look like an obscurantist ancient cult led by an elderly dude with shitloads of gold, but here in old Italia it’s actually just a religion. The vast majority is baptized and doesn’t give a damn about it. That’s why your stereotypes about Catholics not using condoms or being virgins until marriage could in many cases slightly irritate your interlocutor.

After carefully reading what I’ve written until now, it seems I’m taking away all the potentially funny conversations from your Italian trip and that Italians are really oversensitive pretentious fuckers. But no, not all of them are like this (just the writer); so try and dive into the wonderful world of a true, honest and open chat with a local.

Categories
Identity

Stupid Shit That People From The Balkans Are Sick Of Westerners Asking Them

I’m sort of amazed by the Balkans, beyond all the issues around the rich beauty, amazing post-punk music, and tremendous diversity of the region. For those of us in our late twenties and early thirties, the Balkans represents a place that we grew up always hearing about on the nightly news but never truly understood. We’d constantly hear code words like: “Tuđman,” “Dayton,” and the Balkan’s man’s man, “Stoichkov.” In many ways, I think so many young tourists come to visit Bosnia or Albania in order to understand those vague memories of news programs and football announcers talking about the massive coming out party for Croatia in 1998. This is great and all but guess what? Those days are over.

Go to the Balkans now and sure, you’ll hear some stupid rumbling once in awhile about that stuff but people are moving on. More importantly, the young people of today aren’t hyped up on burning down other cunt’s villages. Plus, that stereotype only really applies to a handful of the countries. Yet remarkably, what colors the overwhelming majority of Westerner’s imaginations about the Balkans is chaos, genocide, poverty, and last names that are hard to pronounce. People haven’t realized that most of these countries, although somewhat poorer, are pretty normal European countries. They have vibrant youth cultures that are not arrested by the past but are happily moving forward.

Sadly, this news has not reached all of those Western tourists bombarding the Balkans. With that comes their stupid questions and assumptions about the region. Although it is okay to be curious, we say whoever told you there is no such thing as a stupid question lied! Here are some of the questions that people from the Balkans are sick of hearing Westerners ask them!

Špela (22), student/pink-haired pixie from Ljubljana, Slovenia

Nataša (25), Forensic psychology student from Belgrade, Serbia

Snezana (23), student from Strumica, Macedonia

Kristina (24), journalist from Zagreb, Croatia

Azra (29), Member of European Volunteer Service from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dayana (23), freelance author and photographer from Sofia, Bulgaria