Categories
Food

Eat, Drink and Loosen Your Belt: an Ode to Polish Cuisine

This is the beginning of a love story, or several love stories actually.

The first time I visited Poland was during the spring of 2012 and to be honest, the sole reason of this visit was the fact that my friend, in whose kitchen I resided at that time, and I found ridiculously cheap flight tickets to the mysterious sounding and suspected crazy party town of Wrocław. It was a random decision: neither of us had been to Poland before, nor did we have any idea of what to expect. On top of that, it was also my first time couchsurfing, which resulted in being hosted by a nice Polish girl who lived in a very characteristic socialist housing block in the Wrocław suburbs.

I immediately liked this girl because she didn’t pay for public transportation and I sympathize with that. Ever since I have been riding public transportation worldwide for free in her honour. Sadly she got fined when we were cruising the city on the tram together, but according to her calculations it was still more profitable to pay the odd fine than to buy tickets every time. Another reason for her likability was the fact that she introduced me to the first Polish dish I ever tried: a magic pickled cucumber soup. And thus, without knowing, this event marked the start of my deeply rooted love for couchsurfing, Poland and Polish cuisine.

Let’s be honest, Poland isn’t exactly known for its refined and widely admired cuisine. But who cares when you are being served a bowl of steaming hot comforting soup from which you can taste the love it was prepared with and somehow reminds you of your grandparents’ cooking? Maybe that is the charm of Polish food and the key to truly appreciating it: hearty nostalgia, authenticity and unpretentiousness.

The image that many yet to be enlightened people have of Polish cuisine is an unimaginative, bland fare of potatoes, cabbage, heavy cream and sausages. Eating to survive, rather than living to eat. It actually makes sense when you look at Poland’s tough history of aggressively behaving neighbours and the necessity of rationing scarce products during the socialist era. Many foods were available only by restricted amounts and had to be preserved because of limited access to fresh produce.

But following the migration of Polish people all over Europe and beyond, their food has become more integrated and a polski sklep (Polish shop) is not a rare sight anywhere in western or northern Europe. Tesco has a Polish section in their ‘world foods’ aisle, Polish sausages are available pretty much everywhere and restaurants and food trucks serving traditional and modern Polish cookery are opening up in numerous places. And did you know that the bagel was invented in Poland in the 17th century by the well-respected Dr. Władisław Bagel?

The aforementioned trip to Wrocław casually also awakened my love for pickled vegetables, a convenient trait for those who like to spend time in Eastern Europe. However, I wasn’t fully convinced by the rye bread with garlic infused lard which was served with the excellent wheat beers on the city’s central square. Still, my appetite for Polish food culture was unstoppable and thus I went on my second visit, to the great city of Kraków. My hosts were an incredibly hospitable Polish guy, whom I’d met a couple of weeks earlier under unbearable circumstances in Kazakhstan (talk about unimaginative national cuisine), and his lovely wife. It was then that I got introduced to the concept of the bar mleczny, or milk bar.

Now, I don’t eat milk products but I instantly liked these simple canteen-style restaurants which used to be very popular during socialist times. They are similar to the stolovaya, which can be found in former Soviet countries, and can vaguely be compared to Ikea restaurants – but thankfully without those pointless little Swedish flags in your meatballs. The food is as simple yet satisfying as the concept: think filling, warming soups and stews, meat cutlets, herring, potato and buckwheat-based dishes, and sides of beetroot salads and pickled vegetables.

Winter food? Perhaps. Boring? No way! Food doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘sophisticated’ to be delicious and besides, what makes food sophisticated anyway? As if a potato turns into a refined piece of art after being touched by a Frenchman yet after the Slavic treatment it is still just a lump of starch. As if!

And I haven’t even discussed the possibly most-beloved and best-known Polish dish of all time yet. Italians call them ravioli, Russia has its pelmeni, Ukrainian do varenyky, Georgians eat khinkali, in Turkey and Central Asia they make manti and in China they eat dogs. And jiaozi. All of them are delicious, but Polish pierogi are arguably the most versatile member of the dumpling family. Stuffed with a variety of savoury (meat, potato, cheese, sauerkraut, mushrooms, spinach) and sweet (fruits, dairy) fillings, they have been feeding Polish mouths for centuries and got an iconic, fully embraced status in countless nations after Polish migrants introduced them in their new homelands. On behalf of a sizeable proportion of the world population I would like to say “Dziękuję!” for that.

Convinced yet? To familiarize yourself with kuchnia polska, having Polish flatmates is always a good start. Besides usually being utmost friendly and fun people, you will be sure there is always some delicious home-cooked food around, which they are more than willing to share with you. I have many happy, fuzzy memories about truckloads of kapuśniak (cabbage soup) on cold winter days and chilled vodka-infused watermelon during hot summers. Not sure if this last one would classify as a Polish dish though, but if the vodka is Polish, why not. Nevertheless, do keep in mind that trying to out-drink a Pole will inevitably end in tears, with or without watermelon.


Poland doesn’t disappoint in the drinks department, either. Of course there is the infamous vodka, available in all shapes, flavours and sizes, but some of the local beers ain’t bad either. The Grand Prix American IPA by the Ciechan brewery is one of the best IPAs I’ve ever tasted, and if you have a sweet tooth, try the honey beers. Even recovering alcoholics need not dehydrate: Polish tomato juice ranks among the best in the world – although I would like to give some credit to Moldova in this respect as well.
Now, three and a half years after my first Polish experience, I find myself returning to Poland whenever I get the chance and the continuation of exploring local food is a considerable part of that. In Warsaw I ate potato pancakes, Gdańsk gave me delicious bean soup and a heartwarming home-cooked family feast, and in a central bar mleczny in Poznań, a friend and I were waiting for our pierogi for about an hour in an exceptionally uncomfortable and slightly hostile environment whilst being surrounded by the city’s human drainage point. Still, a better midnight snack than a zapiekanka (enormous open-faced baguette with several toppings) from Kraków’s neighbourhood of Kazimierz is hardly imaginable, and bigos (sauerkraut stew with meat) is the ultimate comfort food suitable for any occasion.

As you can tell, the love story continues, and since happiness is better when shared, I encourage everyone to try unknown foods from underdog cuisines. Skip the Kazakh one though, unless you fancy a diet consisting exclusively of fatty mutton and fermented camel’s milk, and start with the Polish. Yes, it may have the tendency to be a tad heavy, but when in Rome, do as the Poles do: loosen your belt and enjoy. Not a huge fan after all? A shot of heavy-duty local vodka will neutralize your taste buds – or kill them forever.

Categories
Food

The Mourning After: eating away the post-drinking blues in different parts of the world

I was a late-bloomer, I have to admit. I remember opening my eyes the morning after and thinking: so this is what it feels like.

My very first hangover.

It was the day after my 19th birthday and I got so drunk on Martini that I vomited straight down on the downstairs neighbours’ balcony and possibly on their cat too (luckily it was raining that night), collapsed, and missed out on my own party. Ever since I have not been able to tolerate the taste, smell or even the thought of Martini as my first hangover brutally welcomed me to the World of People Who Appreciate a Drink Every Now and Then by lasting no shorter than a week. A week! This week included classic signals such as dehydration, headaches and general misery, but also more worrisome ones, like signing up for a free trial at the gym. Shit seriously hit the fan.

But of course I survived and learned my lesson. How else would I have discovered that a cucumber is not a good stomach liner for a night of drinking and that the aforementioned brand of vermouth is pure poison, and not the good type?

Amateur as I was back then, I was yet to be familiarized with Hangover Emergency Aid. Now, eight years and countless hangovers later, I discovered that remedies actually differ per country and that each region seems to have their own way of dealing with the ‘man with the hammer’. Since I just moved to my 8th country of residence (and when I think of it, at least half of the countries I have been living in are notorious for their high alcohol consumption), of course I had to be prepared for new hangover cure experimentation.

Sure, it is a personal thing as well, but which places are best equipped for the badly hungover? And, more importantly, what should one eat or drink there?

Let’s start by looking East because, let’s be honest, the DNA there is Darwinism in its purest form. You are very likely to overestimate your alcohol tolerance in Poland and surrounding countries, but as this region has a rich tradition in binge drinking, they have carefully developed and tested hangover solutions for centuries. Their answer: sour stuff. Pickles are a generally accepted hangover food, but those who mean business also drink the pickle juice, straight from the jar. Another solution is cabbage soup (see ‘Eat, Drink and Loosen your Belt: an Ode to Polish Cuisine’) or solyanka, another comforting salty/sour soup. Basically just anything sour. Be prepared by always having a bottle of vinegar in your kitchen cabinet for emergency scenarios.

Had a bit too much Sangsom whiskey or finished the whole ‘bucket’ by yourself? Lucky you- in Thailand you can treat yourself to a deliciously spicy concoction on any street corner. A classic is pad kee mao or ‘drunk noodles’: broad noodles stir-fried with meat, vegetables and whatever else you fancy when in a hungover state. The essential ingredients are fish sauce – for your salt fix – and lots of bird’s eye chillies to sweat that hangover right out of your system. In case this doesn’t help, try nature’s gift to alcoholics: fresh young coconut water. It will replenish and rehydrate you and it tastes terrific, too!

In Anglo-Saxon countries, one tends to crave a lot of grease and salt in the form of classics such as a full English fry-up, poutine and bacon and egg-related dishes. And with good reason, as Newcastle University concluded that a bacon sandwich is the best thing to eat the morning after due to the combination of carbohydrates and proteins, which apparently offsets some complex chemistry in your body. All scientific stuff aside: it just tastes good and therefor does not need any kind of explanation. Period.

Now, let’s have a look at the country where even Immigration greets visitors with a bottle of wine, so just you might as well just accept the fact that you will feel hungover at some point during your stay in Georgia. Nil desperandum, because the Georgians have some tricks up their sleeves to deal with this necessary evil. Some of their cures are not for beginners though: khashi, for example, is tripe soup with milk and garlic and traditionally served in the mornings only. Of course its magic works even better when combined with a shot of Georgian grappa. Not feeling that adventurous? Borjomi is a drink of Gods (and Soviet leaders) and this salty, mineral-packed sparkling water will put you back up on your feet in no time.


In 
Mongolia, the answer to the world’s favourite self-inflicted wound is simply a glass of tomato juice with a pickled sheep’s eye in it. Don’t reject the idea just yet, because isn’t it just like a different interpretation of a Bloody Mary? (No.)While a considerable part of the rest of the world probably picks up some Turkish style fast-food on the way home after a night of drinking, in Turkey they came up with a remedy for themselves which, strangely enough, hasn’t made it to most shawarma/kebab/falafel stalls abroad: kokoreç. It is basically the Mediterranean version of haggis, where offal and organ meat is chopped, wrapped in intestines, grilled, and served on a sandwich. Would probably be approved by Newcastle University’s Hangover Cure Department. Often consumed as a street food, it is best washed down with a shot of raki.

All folklore aside, after careful consideration, experimentation and extensive drinking in the name of ‘research journalism’, my own personal First Aid package is quite simple. Drink endless amounts of water. Take a pain killer or two. Indulge in a long hot shower. Fry some eggs. Still feel like you have just been attacked by a league of angry football hooligans on speed? This is where those years living in Denmark have helped me a lot: face reality and drink one ‘reparation beer’. Not only is it an effective solution that has worked best for me, it also semi-rationally allows you to drink again. Mind you though, here the trick is not to exceed the magical limit of one – or you’ll end up just postponing your hangover.

Categories
Central Europe Urban

Travel, Love, Drunken Urination, and Zagreb

I woke up in a bed that wasn’t mine in Ljubljana. Actually, it was a couch. After a quick inspection I realized that there was no one around and my belt was undone. There was also a strong musk of the dark beer I had been drinking the previous night emanating from the plant pot down the hall. There is a good chance I had treated it to some of my home-grown nutrient. I’m not an overly aggressive drunk so I doubt that I did anything too bad. I was grand despite the mystery of how or why I ended up on this couch. When something like this happens I just remind myself of three far more concerning drunken moments that always sooth my worries:

  • Mates and I were running around Batumi dry humping statues drunkenly to the horrors of the two Georgian girls we were with. As one screamed at us to at least try to avoid going to jail in the crowded main square, my Danish mate squinted at her with a peculiar amazement usually reserved for assessing a Kandinsky or Rothko work. What she didn’t realize as she continued to scream was that his cock hung out pissing everywhere as some locals looked on in horror.
  • Being accosted by No-Yolo’s Klemens for running off with some Jewish girl at a bar in Montreal. On one of the main streets in the city, he grabbed me, pulled out his cock, and tried to piss all over me while screaming in his silly Colm Meaney-in-Intermission-style voice: “TAKE YOUR SCOLDING!”
  • Celebrating an Irish mate’s birthday in Montreal with his Canadian girlfriend’s family. Her somewhat mild mannered WASP father started to ease up during dinner after a couple glasses of wine. Once we hit the pub, he was pissed and attempted to take out his cock to tell us how impressive it was, to the shouting horror of the girlfriend’s brother screaming “DAAAADDDDD!” as if it was a regular occurrence in and outside that family home.

Upon reflection, what I may or may not have done the previous night in Ljubljana seemed rather inconsequential. Most likely I just stopped for a snooze on my way home. Regardless, I successfully cleared customs a couple of hours later.

The more concerning issue was the many text messages I got throughout the night from my ex-girlfriend – who I had not seen since May – calling me a heartless cunt. Typically around 2 am on a weekend night I either get abusive angry rants or proclamations that no one will love me again from her. I was reminded once again of my horrendous romantic track record and I became sad. It didn’t help that when I realized this I was in a taxi on my way to the airport and the 1984 smash single To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before by Julio Iglesias and Willie came on on the radio. I love that jam.

After turning 27 and increasingly seeing mates settling down, finding another half, and from all appearances seeming almost content with themselves, I am a little concerned by my inability to either stick to one location or one girl. Sadly, this is a man (contestably a boy at maturity level) that has never had a successful relationship devoid of cheating, who has not stayed in the same country for more than 6 weeks over the past two years and who has lived in four different countries since university, while looking at number 5 for 2016’s possible PhD. I don’t have a drinking problem, I have a consistency problem- which admittedly, the booze isn’t helping with.

Many attempts have been made to diagnose both myself and other’s constant need to travel and fuck up relationships. The most common of these is the dreaded and patronizing “You have commitment issues”. Though more stupid than wrong, I think commitment isn’t the problem. I have no problems committing in other areas of my life. I have a close and loving relationship with each member of my family who I speak to almost daily. The same goes for my mates. I’ve also had an honest and frank love of Tottenham Hotspur which is going through a second spring under the high pressing Pochettino team. If you know anything about Tottenham, you’ll understand why I mark that as an indication of my capacity to commit.

The issue isn’t commitment. Whenever people speak about love and, to some degree, travel, there is a presumption that we’re all chasing after that final end or solution: to be with that person/s, find a home, or have that ‘experience’, i.e some clichéd shit that we’re all suppose to say. I can’t say that for myself. My travels and my love are driven by something that commitment does not really come into the equation. I am always intrigued by all those aspects of life that remain a mystery. This curiosity is driven by the belief that whatever is out there must have a more sophisticated and interesting next step. Perhaps the next place will be more fun? Maybe the next girl will be more interesting? Whatever I don’t know holds the far greater allure. It is different from commitment issues because I don’t feel claustrophobic when I’m around the familiar. No, I am just always waiting for the next best thing, lover, or place.

This has never been so evident than with the few days I spent in Zagreb and the romance I had there. I say ‘romance’ but the reality was two dates and a failed attempt at a one-night stand. I believe in fairies and I’ve yet to see concrete evidence that Santa doesn’t have at least some role in Christmas, plus it is my fucking article so I get to call it a romance. The person of subject will certainly be mortified to read this. I digress..

ZAGREB

I had no plans in going there but due to a freakish amount of mistakes at work I was given an extra week off. I caught a flight from Belgrade to Zagreb and rented out a cute apartment. Like most places, I knew not a single soul and got my Tindering on the go. I matched up with a beautiful journalist who had a keen interest in music. That is where our similarities ended. Just messing. I am a happy 6 at best on the beauty scale but I do enjoy my tunes.

She was socially awkward, prone to being late, and she seemed pretty fucking serious. That said, she was like some kind of fantasy I had when I was 17. She made references to the Stone Roses… without me mentioning them! She was into the new Jeremih single that I would rank at number two in my top singles of the year. It feels like something so profound as music could be the perfect foundation for an emotional connection. Whatever it may be, I also uphold that our childish impulses tend to be our most honest

Sure, sure after only two dates (and one failed one night stand) this is kinda heavy language with even more superficial justification. But I’m from the old school music snob mentality that it doesn’t matter what you’re like but what you like. I think a good music taste can sustain a long term relationship. The hyper-realistic friends of mine might also include enthusiastic oral sex as well. Those two much are better than all this shite about understanding. But seriously, it feels like something so profound as music could be the perfect basis for an emotional connection. Music tends to explain and help us identity all that confusion we wouldn’t even begin to speak about.

Among all of this weird romancing, I found myself kinda charmed by Zagreb. Walking along the hills beyond the city center, you can’t help but feel that even a spastic with a camera, such as myself, could work for National Geographic. Walking through the Gradec, you’ll find the beauty of Zagreb is a little more sophisticated than what your initial expectations are. It might be the city is largely devoid of any tourism in November but there is something more. It is certainly Balkan but also Catholic. The pubs, the café, the way in which every night I went to a small pub for a couple because Croatians start way too late for my poor old soul yet whenever I passed Kamenita vrata there would be someone just praying. Certainly less cosmopolitan than Belgrade and less storied than Sarajevo, Zagreb sits comfortably as not a mosaic of the cultures but instead a peaceful blend of her influences as the bridge between Habsburg, Balkan, Eastern, Western, EU, non-EU, and all that name dropping.

It is a place where a museum dedicated to broken relationships doesn’t seem out of place. The Muzej Prekinutih Veza belongs in a city like Zagreb. It is neither cheeky nor profound. The city’s elegance mirrors the process by which this museum delicately makes you reflect on those times you were hurt or perhaps even more emotionally those times you hurt each other. More importantly, you start thinking about all those opportunities that you had but let it pass away.

I felt surprisingly open! I liked this city. I liked the girl. I liked how I felt there. I even liked the shit apartment I had rented close to Ban Jelačić Square that had a zebra theme to it. Hanging around the bars and cafes throughout the day, it felt like a city was just lacking that perfect and it hadn’t met its full potential but with a bit of effort from the right people, maybe it could. Just for a moment, I even envision myself being part of that jazz.

For our second date, we went to a bar on Tkalčićeva and smoked a lot of cigarettes in one setting. Afterwards, she came to my place to give this love making a bit of a try. We were almost there. ALMOST. Like, I was reaching for the Johnny when she said she couldn’t go through with it. It wasn’t personal she pleaded. She wished she could but for whatever reason she couldn’t go through with it.

Maybe she was being nice. I had no idea most of time what she was thinking. Slightly humiliated, I kinda went into my shell. I think it didn’t help that while having this discussion, I was arse naked while she was fully dressed. Not that I have a problem being in the nude, but you can’t help but feel a little out place with all that emotional tension and you’re the only naked person in the room. Reveal your soul, not your cock. She said that she’d like to see me the next day if I stayed in Croatia. I don’t know if she was just trying to be nice but I reacted by refusing her kiss goodbye and just letting her walk out alone. I know, it was childish and I should never have acted that way. I just shrugged it off and said I was going to Slovenia.

Waking up on that couch in Slovenia, I immediately regretted leaving Zagreb. First of all, Ljubljana felt like a fucking creepy Christmas store; it wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Shit was overly polished, the people weren’t that great, and I was just too burnt out to do a fucking thing. When you wake up drunk in a strange place and are not too worried, you know you’re in a boring city. The booze and travel caught up with me. The thought process was that there must be something else out there. Surely, Slovenia would make me happier but that’s the problem. When there is always a next step it can start becoming problematic: there can always be something next.

For me, travel and love are inexplicably linked in their functionary qualities. They both involve opening up yourself to the amazing venerability that you’re not going to be in complete control of your destiny and that shit will eventually go tits up, but it is going to take you down a path you would have never expected. Travel and love also intersect in being amazing revealers not of your worth but of why you are the way you are. This can all be lost though. The problem is when there is always a next step then there is no time for reflection. When either love or a place starts losing its luster, just bouncing disrupts that entire process. Perhaps, things have been too accessible and it is starting to lose its impact. Always a new girl, always a new place just doesn’t seem to be work. Maybe it is time for a wee change.

Well, my hangover is starting to wear off. I am feeling kinda human again but also slightly afraid of how stalker-ish this all looks. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. To paraphrase Pamuk, ‘you don’t need to be right, you just need the right imagination’. That’s fine. There can’t be a problem to write something. There can’t be a problem if it acts as a catalyst for change. Accept there doesn’t always need to be something new and to place a bit of emotion down on the table. I got a wee bit of Croatian money left over. Why would I visit Nepal? I might just nuzzle my way into someone’s heart or maybe just enjoy a late evening walk through Zagreb.

Categories
Central Europe

Since We Split Up Last Spring: A Love Letter to Berlin

Hi Berlin!

How have you been since we last saw each other? Any news? Of course there must be news, you are so energetic and dynamic and you keep surprising yourself and others by your constant development.

Am I blushing? I guess I am. I always am.

So…
Okay, I will be straight up with you, as you’ve always been straight up with me. The reason I am writing you is because I have been thinking about you a lot since we split up last Spring. I know, I told you I had feelings for somebody else and that’s why I left, but my crush on Tbilisi didn’t work out the way I hoped it would and I fled into Krakow’s arms instead.

Even though Krakow is taking good care of me and is treating me well, I just can’t ignore those strong emotions connected to you. Don’t be angry, we both know it is possible to divide the love that we are capable of giving others amongst several targets. You of all should know: you are the coolest kid in the classroom and everybody wants to be like you, wants a piece of you.

Ever since I first met you, I knew I wanted you. I tried to love you, and I did. Hell, I still do. But you are tough, you are not accommodating to any random person that approaches you. Even though anyone would admit that you are cool, you are not for everybody. You can be so distant and individualistic and sure, so can I, and I do love a challenge. But never in my life have I felt so lonely, confused and clueless as I was when I was with you. To be fair, on the other hand you, like nobody else, also have the ability to make me feel energetic, happy, inspired and on top of the world.

So what is it with you? Is it me who is schizophrenic or is it you? Maybe we both are. You have such a unique and groovy side to you but I know you, you can be ugly and merciless as well. You chew on your lovers, spit them out and leave them behind in your streets, suffering.

You attract such a range of different people, which is also what’s great about you, and as you know I as well have been very urbanely promiscuous over the past couple of years. However, you are one of the few I keep on coming back to, despite your lack of hygiene sometimes. You know you can be hard to manage, you are so spread out and wide, and recently I have been favouring compact candidates instead. Probably partially due to a mental tiredness of some sort. I suppose I needed the overview back, the feeling that I could manage where I was and what I was doing.

But wow, thinking back about not being in control and just giving all of me to you.. it was scary but so worth it. I also took it as a subtle sign of love that your civil servants never fined me for not having a transportation ticket, even though we both know I am a serial offender when it comes to that. But hey, just like you, I embrace unpredictability and risks. That’s why we are such a good match! So why do you continue to give me such mixed signals and doubtful feelings?

Ahem.
Let’s not get too sentimental here. I know we will get involved with each other again, perhaps for a short fling, or maybe longer to give our confusing relationship a third (!) chance. Once more I will take your dogshit for granted, your harsh winters, your sheer vastness and your attitude which, by the way, sometimes is a bit ‘too cool for school’, actually. No need to become too pretentious, you prick. I also will accept your ridiculous amount of fellow admirers, because I know that loving you is sooo mainstream and that you receive countless declarations of love every day. Bastard.

I like to think mine is different, though. Yes, I know, surprise: everybody thinks that way. When I gave you a second chance, many of your lovers told me I would never be able to leave you, that it is impossible to part ways with you. In a way it is, because even though I physically left you, you’ve been with me mentally. But I don’t know what it is with you, you also scare me a little and you trigger my survival mechanism. You make me want to shut down and crawl back into my shell to protect myself from getting hurt.

Contradictorily, if there is any lesson you taught me, it would be that this is no way to live life. Life happens, shit happens, we get hurt, we experience pain. Without it, we wouldn’t really live. Right? Could you imagine the experiences we would miss out on? We have to experience heartbreak to realize what love means. You know who showed me that? You. And I am grateful for this lesson. You can be so impersonal, so black and white in demanding all or nothing: some of your other lovers have been complaining about that as well. I remember this evening when I was roaming your streets with one of them. We picked up a cheap Sternburg Export from a Spätiand wandered through the rain: drinking, talking, contemplating, observing, inhaling your spirit. We labelled ourselves ‘The Lost Souls’ and that’s exactly how we felt. You have this quality in you to make people feel that way, and you know what, you even get away with it!

It wasn’t until I left you that I realized how nice this melancholy actually was.

To me, you represent all aspects of life: the most beautiful, energetic and inspiring as well as the truly desperate, ruthless and lonely. You inspired my discovery of life, opportunities, risks and most of all of myself. In return for all that I learned, you have been so remorseless and confrontational that it freaking hurt.

But that’s life, that’s love, and that’s what I wanted you to know.

See you soon.

With love,
Svetlana

Categories
Central Europe Identity

The Pathological Low Self-Esteem of Eastern (Central) Europeans

The “Eastern versus Central Europe paradigm” is disputed by pretty much everyone who was born in the “Eastern part of Central Europe” or the “Western part of Eastern Europe”, etc. Saying something inconsiderately about this part of Europe, mixing up the regions or using the geographical definition instead of the economic or political definition of regions might lead to fatal consequences in an innocent discussion. This is a delicate matter, such a sensitive topic that makes everyone furious and you hear arguments like: “My country is not located in Eastern Europe! Look at the map, you idiot: Vienna is more on the East! Eastern Europe starts with Ukraine!”

Such statements are rooted in a general lack of self-confidence. Unfortunately you can never be tactful enough to avoid someone getting seriously offended, even though you really did not mean to degrade anyone. If the regional term was used correctly, something else would give room for offense, like which country eats more sausages, who fought more in the Second World War, or whose language is more similar to Russian, etc. The thing is that nothing is wrong about being from the West, from the South or from the East of a continent. No one is worth less or more because they were born in the North/South/West/East.

In fact, when people refer to Eastern Europe, they usually mean the countries of the former Eastern Bloc or Warsaw Pact. There is no 100% accepted definition for the region; the UN defines it differently than the CIA World Factbook and of course, every country has its own interpretation of it as well.

To avoid any confusion and for the sake of simplicity hereinafter let’s stick with the “Eastern Europe = Former Eastern Bloc” formula as trivial definition.

It is quite difficult to understand the mindset of this region and to identify with the anxiety which manifests itself in the people’s attitude towards life. This feeling is something like constantly measuring and comparing yourself to others, especially to your Western neighbors. You are fully convinced that the rest of the world looks down on you, either despises you or if they don’t, it can only be explained by the fact they don’t even know about the existence of your homeland: if they were aware of it, they would obviously criticize it.

In this region you learn very early on that if you go abroad for holidays, you have to behave much better than at home; otherwise, imagine all the horrible things that people would think about your homeland! You are not chilling abroad, but representing your own country and in order to not bring any shame on it, you really need to act very proper. While there are few places for Westerners which they can consider expensive and pretty much all places are dirt cheap for them, for you it is the opposite. You buy a lot of new clothes before vacations and during your stay you spend way much more than you can actually afford only for the sake of not being judged or looked down on, because of course, they just look at you and immediately figure out where you are from. You end up overdoing everything because you read about and know all the tourist stereotypes and you are trying to avoid them at whatever cost.

According to stereotypes the main characteristics of Eastern European tourists are as follows:

  • you live on home-made sandwiches (usually with schnitzel) and canned food
  • bringing your own booze from home
  • always dragging your cooler bag or a plastic bag with yourself
  • wearing socks with sandals
  • being stingy and trying to bargain
  • hardly speaking any English
  • being unable to handle if some small unnecessary items are for free: you take all free candies, soaps, shampoo from the hotel, abuse the services of all you can eat and overconsume from free soft drink refill
  • (there were cases of transporting potatoes for holidays from an unnamed V4 – Visegrad Cooperation – member state as well)

What makes this whole phenomenon tragicomic is the fact that no one cares, really. You are just beating yourself up with all these thoughts while for locals in these holiday resorts you are a guest, a customer whom they make their living from.

When in Western Europe, you always feel frustrated, mistreated and looked down on. You consider yourself an excluded poor immigrant, even if you are only spending a week sightseeing there and as an expat you’ll nag about how xenophobic Westerners are, that they don’t hang out with you because they hate you in secret.

All expats living in Eastern Europe immediately realize the timidity of locals whenever it comes to speaking up at work, present yourself, asking questions, standing up for yourself or just daring to speak English. You cannot even compare the general behavior of this region to the overwhelming self-confidence and “can do attitude” of Americans. While in the States kids grow up on cheesy phrases like “You can be whatever you want!”, here you grow up on frightening ones like “If you don’t study hard, you will end up as a road sweeper or homeless-  you will see, how easy it is to get there or to end up in prison”. No matter what you do, society has already dragged your self-confidence down in your childhood. Don’t dream big, you will fail. Don’t raise your voice, it is still better to be a post-communist obsequious person than a overly loud individualist who will be hated anyway for his/her exhibitionism.

One of the worst outcomes is that this low self-esteem stimulates supra-nationalism and nurtures the far-right movement. I don’t think I need to get too much into this since it is well known that this region is notorious for having a very strong right-wing scene, racism and even anti-Semitism. The region still cannot be called xenophobic, as it loves expats from the EU or richer countries, but it’s not welcoming of immigrants or refugees at all.

I could write juicy phrases like “respect yourself and others will respect you”, or “don’t judge and you will not be judged”, but I would rather say: take some sips of the Easterner booze you brought from home, have a bite of your schnitzel sandwich, swing the socks and sandals off your feet and tell yourself “it does not matter”.

… or if that does not work, just take the easy way out and start / continue self-poisoning and hating.

Categories
Apathy Sex Tourists

“It’s not you, it’s Cambodia”: Siem Reap, Angkor Twat & Failed Relationships

The train I had taken with my girlfriend from Bangkok to the Cambodian border was long, hot, and involved a young Muslim Thai boy sleeping on my shoulder for about six hours. I also couldn’t eat anything because I thought that all the food had meat in it and that’s one area I’m mad childish about. I’ve since committed to avoiding long train rides in non-vegetarian countries.

Between the two borders there is a fucking cesspool of casinos called Poipet where I’m not entirely sure if international law applies. I had read that it was absolute chaos and you were certain to get scammed, robbed, and have your kidneys sold off to a Turkish fella that smelt like onions. My only difficulty was trying to convince the border guard not to stamp the last fresh page in my passport. He did so anyway.

After we were finished, we stood around thinking about how we’d get to Siem Reap, which is famous for two things: having a complex of Hindu temples and being a major party city. We met a couple that turned out to be remarkably similar to us: mixed nationality and living in the Gulf Region. Like us, they were approaching the end of both their holiday and their relationship. I, of course, didn’t know that at the time but later found out from the girl when I ran into her in a bar drunk. Everyone who gets emotional when drunk is at the end of a relationship.

For the months leading up to the holiday, I had been constantly fighting with the missus about everything. I won’t lie, I’m prone to being complacent and pretty non-responsive while in a long term relationship. We were doing long distance as she was in France and I was in the Gulf.

For me, communication in long distance relationships is particularly weird. You’d think that the advent of video calling would ease that but it has only served to allow people to have Skype sex. Texting ends up being the main mode of communication for most people. On a point of principle I don’t use emoticons because I assume my father would view them as an admission of homosexuality. I come across as a cold bastard whenever I write. Perhaps it was not a smart decision in hindsight to communicate like that in a long distance relationship. Not to imply that a couple more smilies would have saved the relationship or anything.

It was the sort of relationship that might have made its way onto Buzzfeed if either of us had bothered to set up an Instagram account. Because she had a relatively high amount of disposable income for someone in Turkey and I get absurd amounts of time off so we just saw each other in different countries every couple of months. From Georgia to Lebanon to Morocco we traveled. She was very funny and everything was kind of perfect until the complacency set in. We had simply taken it for granted that each other was there and neither of us was trying that hard anymore. It had lost its luster. The holiday was meant to regain that lost sense of need.

We were supposed to go to Nepal, which we were both excited about. However, the earthquakes hit and we had to cancel. We only went to Thailand/Cambodia because the flights were cheap and I didn’t feel like spending 60 euro a night to stay in Prague. We used to mock people going to Thailand because it seemed like the place only sex tourists and Australians who shouldn’t have passports visited. We justified it by saying we’d go to Cambodia because they must be better there. We decided that we’d spend most of the week in Siem Reap because it had come highly suggested by my brother, who normally has wonderful taste. More importantly, it was relatively cheap and we figured it might be fun.

We shared a taxi with the couple from the border to Siem Reap. Being an absolute Eastern Europhile, I couldn’t resist asking the girl, who was from the Czech Republic, why Roxette and Depeche Mode were so popular there. Eventually, I got the impression from everyone else in the car that I should just shut up and maybe try to sleep; especially after that shit train ride. When people’s love lives are in tatters they don’t seem to care for banter about the liberalization of radio stations in the former Warsaw Pact countries post-Glasnost. Just some simple love life advice.

Once we arrived, we split from the other couple and went to our hotel. We set out on Siem Reap to get something to eat and get pissed. If you do go, you’re certain to end up at a bar called Angkor Twat (sic), which of course is a reference to the sole reason why anyone comes to this place: the Hindu temples of Angkor Wat. I’d imagine the ambition of this bar was to be the place where anything is possible. People should get loose and wild in this place in such a chaotic fashion that the synergy of human expression will get so great that it will overcome war, the need for visas, and the medical condition commonly known as “the Clap.” This might have happened, I don’t know. I do know however was that I wasn’t feeling very ‘together’ with anyone.

I sat at the table there with my then girlfriend really unsure of what to talk about. I wanted to just joke around but the fact that we both knew it was coming to an end just made normal conversation impossible. Right on the main street, people in colorful clothing danced to top 40 songs. There was a young Cambodian girl selling bracelets that would join in the fun. Perhaps, she saw it as a good way to sell them by engaging tourists but the tourists loved it. They saw her as the perfect accessory to their holiday. A lovely moment to take a picture with a selfie-stick showing you hanging out with one of the locals and partying it balls-to-the-walls. Everything appeared so random, but in reality just seemed the same all over to give the illusion you were having a unique moment.

Siem Reap, with its street vendors, buckets of booze, and plastering of “yolo” everywhere, sets the stage for tourists from Western Europe, North America, and Australia to partake in repetitive acts of hedonism and youthful pleasure. The dancing in the street, the men in flamboyant tank tops that they call “wife-beaters,” and the excessive drinking – not so much to get pissed but to display that you’re having the greatest time of your life – are what you do there. To do else wise is not to be there. It is a shit state of affairs particularly when your love life is collapsing.

Siem Reap is a city that rests on the illusion of fun. The experience itself has already been defined through depiction in media, stories of loose American G.Is looking for loving and dope, and a bunch of other nefarious kicks that thread the fine line between deviant and adventurous. That might have been the case at one time but those days are gone. The only thing up for chance is whether you get an STD if you don’t rock a johnny with some of the local talent.

Everything is organized, managed and, most significantly, owned by some member of the expat community. Street dancing happens in front of the same club night after night. Everyone wants to dress a bit silly. Pleasure in Siem Reap is just performativity. It merely acts to give the illusion of chance while in reality holding a limited sense of enjoyment. It lacks any spontaneity but rather rests on those fumes of time passed. Despite your best attempts to embrace the superficiality of it all, you can’t help but be resigned to the fact that it is empty. It is at its core vacant and barren, unless you’re a good enough sport to at least pretend like you’re having fun. It isn’t too dissimilar to a relationship falling apart.

Like Siem Reap, the last throes of a relationship are halfhearted attempts to express some genuine love and concern while denying that soon enough it will all come to an end. Yes, there are many happy memories, but those memories just serve to remind you that it is time to move on, because that shit isn’t coming back. Unless you are equally vacant and delusional to what is on display in Siem Reap, then you know that is time to just say fuck it. Move on. Delete your music collection and get that Tinder Plus to use while taking a shit.

For both her and I, we could not see ourselves in Cambodia. It didn’t remind us of the joy we had shared together. Instead, it just reinforced all the negatives. Sadly we were there at the very moment we needed to share something to redeem the luster of our love. We had become just like Siem Reap: tired. That moment of salvation just wasn’t there for us.

Eventually, we spent a couple more days there and went back to Thailand. This time we took a plane because, fuck that train. The next day, she left me in our hotel room saying that she didn’t want to be around me; I made her depressed. I called my father and told him that she left. He said just leave it alone. Eventually, she came back and we said goodbye. We said maybe in a couple of months we’d meet up somewhere, but that hasn’t happen yet. Cambodia just wasn’t for us.

Categories
Apathy

Chisinau Is A Ghost: A Photo Essay By Mihail Kalarashan

Chisinau exists as a city of shadows of the people’s memories, hopes, and dreams. Its mask is taken off during a foggy morning, when the city shows its real face. After three or five hours, we can see the lights of the sun on the roofs, and cold shades of grey turn to a rich palette of iridescence.

People can’t live side by side in this city. When you step out of the system, you must create your own system where you feel utterly insignificant. You don’t matter to the state and the state does not matter to you. You’re left wondering only about the present.

You can’t see yourself in someone else. There is no one next to you in the city. It is just you. Your only way of creating a connection is by framing two isolated souls through the lens of a camera.

When you look over the city, you can see a string of city lights where you imagine people are happy and maybe even waiting for you. But that is a distant prospect. It is just the lights fooling you.

Chisinau is merely a town like any across Europe, where simple and complex lives exist. The sadness is just a little more condensed. The city of my modest dreams, it is.

Categories
Alcohol Sex Urban

What I Learned From Traveling Around the World in 2015

A year is a long time. 2015 was the year that I finally felt like an adult for the first time in my life. I got a good job with a consistent paycheck, Spurs are decidedly less Spursy, and Ireland is going to the Euros next year. I took advantage of my holidays to the fullest to the absolute horror of my boss. By year’s end, I had taken more than 60 flights, went to 30 different countries, saw my beautiful parents in Spain, had the best trip of my life with my two best mates (see the Kyrgyzstan article), had the worst trip of my life (see the Cambodia article), and came to a handful of conclusions. Do tell us if you learned anything in the comment section.

Tinder Plus Is A Game Changer

Tinder Plus has changed everything in terms of travel. I’m not implying that hooking up has become substantially easier because it was never that hard to begin with. Rather, an entire world has been opened up for people to communicate, find commonality, and maybe get some loving through a not overly creepy medium.

There has been a lot of criticism of Tinder among different voices in recent times, but in my opinion, its pitfalls simply mimic the societal problems found elsewhere; like racism, sexism, and such. Much of the problematic aspects of it have been remedied through blocking the moments that were used to send dick pics. What has emerged is a tool for people to cultivate an understanding before traveling and comfort before meeting.

On a side note, we almost got a goat out of Tinder Plus so shout out for that.

Morocco Is Where You Should Go Next

I went to Morocco twice over the past 12 months. The first time, I went with an ex-girlfriend and had less of a ‘trip’ and more of a ‘holiday.’ You know, it was pleasant and all but not much more. We mostly did the cliched shit.

The second time, I was shell-shocked by how exciting and unlike anywhere else the place was. While in Marrakesh I got taken out by some people who were familiar with the local watering holes. It was one of the few places I can call ‘inspirational’ without feeling like a total wanker. It is a place where it is obvious that people want so much more than they’ve already got and they’re going to change that. In such a basic way, people are using the limited space of freedom in the likes of karaoke bars and alternative cafes to begin that change through making it a safe space to begin questioning norms.

Plus, I also met maybe the greatest person ever there. We’re doing Paddy’s Day there this year – fuckin’ green couscous and all that shit.

Friends Are Better Travel Partners Than Lovers

It’s grand and all for those in a relationship traveling together but for me, traveling with mates is way more fun. There is something rather lovely about being hungover while sharing a salad with a mate and making crass jokes about the night before instead of worrying about whether you’ll offend your significant other because they have a shit sense of humor and want to do something for Facebook likes.

Traveling as a couple will bore the hole off you and ruin what you intended to gain from travel, i.e. be a better person through this new experience. It hinders your ability to interact with others and closes you off from the world. Straight up, Bromance and Womance need a Tinder app and you should find that special one not to produce kids and buy a house with, but to get drunk, meet more people with, and remind yourself that you’re never too old to make more friends. Fuck marriage when I got Klemens and the Dane of Pain.

The World Is Lovely and Getting Arrested Is Surprisingly Hard

The world is a far more tolerant place than you could imagine. It is jam-packed with caring, genuine, and well-intended people. I was chilling in Albania while a bit lost when some fella with more decades than teeth took sympathy on me, despite not speaking a word of English. He looked at my screen shot of a map of Tirana, laughed, and led me on a nice twenty minute walk through Tirana telling me all about its history. Well, I assume that’s what he was doing, as he pointed at all the different buildings while talking in a long diatribe. That sort of shit just warms your heart.

The amazing surprise is that despite the behavior of myself and companions, such as urinating on religious grounds, drinking on religious grounds and fornicating against religious buildings, we did not manage to get ourselves arrested. We’ll just have to do better next year if we want that night in the drunk tank!

Cities of Love: Tbilisi, Zagreb, or Vilnius

Wanna fall in love? Go to Tbilisi, Zagreb, or Vilnius. They all have that special ambiance that makes your breathing slow down, your heart skip a beat, and makes you realize that you better smarten the fuck up. They have that certain unique charm that reminds you that although you think you’re a big deal and that you ought to not waste your youth chasing after the next kiss, maybe you should actually go find something a little more special.

I suppose this contradicts what I said before about preferring to travel with mates but not really. You don’t need to share every aspect of your life with your significant one. I say ‘fuck it’: home is for the special one and travel is for the mates! Plus, we’re not getting any younger and lord knows the party won’t last forever.

Nothingness Is More Preferable To The Other Shit

One could argue the more shit a place is the more I enjoy it. For example, I had my best holiday ever in Bishkek, yet I can’t tell you one fucking thing I saw, and that’s not because of booze. Now, the booze didn’t help surely but I can say that there was no specific tourist spot that I intended to go to or ended up at that impressed me. Rather, it was the mood, the absurdity, and the company that made it.

I learned that essential lesson; that you can’t enjoy a place unless you have no idea what you’re doing. You need to shape an empty imagination and once you do that you’ll find something special.

Apolitical And Cliched Travel Writing Should Fuck Off

I started No-Yolo with my favorite person in the world and thought it would drive me to travel with more purpose. The result is that I now can justify my poor behavior of excessive drinking, silliness, and scoping out public areas in which to pee.

That said, I firmly believe that we, along with our favorite online magazines and blogs, are challenging that basic and troublesome notion that travel is simply for pleasure. We travel to upset the balance of shit and try to give travel writing more substance.

Bangkok Is Shite
Liking Bangkok is sort of similar to thinking that Mumford and Son is a good band. You more than likely think that you’re a tremendously interesting person but the reality is that you’re a twat. That of course is no reflection on Thai culture or people. I think they’re like any other people in the world with an equal distribution of lovely and shit people.

Rather, I am speaking about traveling as an experience. Does the world need any more articles about Thailand and how one found themselves there? No, it doesn’t. It just seems filled with people looking for their ‘experience’ and maybe a photo with a tiger. Plus, the partying is crap.

Kiev Is Where It Is At In Europe

Kiev is currently the most exciting city in Europe by some margin. All you need to do is just look at the transformation of the city from pre- to post-revolution to notice that something special is in the air. People are speaking more Ukrainian, the city is more colorful, and there is a momentum in the air that says Kiev’s young people won’t tolerate the same bullshit that they have endured since 1991.

Like, I fucking hate gourmet hamburger joints and pseudo-dive bars but what the young people of Kiev have been doing throughout 2015 is attempting to break from the lethargy of the past. It is a statement that they’re going to be determining their own future. If you want to see what the amazing potential of the ex-Soviet Union’s young people are then you need to look no further than this. I wished I lived there.

I Am Just Going To Keep Traveling, And Maybe Learning

I’m going to go to Algeria, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and if one Danish man has his way then Kurdistan next year. Does anyone know where the best bars and vegetarian restaurants are there?

 

Categories
Alcohol Central Europe Sex

Porn, Pálinka, Nazis: This Is Hungary

If you ask any random person what he/she knows about Hungary – and yes, please let’s suppose that this person can place this teeny-tiny country on an approximate map of Europe – most likely you will hear the following holy trinity: porn, strong spirits and Nazis (if you also hear “dictator” than you must have picked a very well informed person).

  1. Porn: Indeed, besides Prague, Budapest is a huge porn hub in the region and even the richest man in the country is THE local porn king, György Gattyán (accoring to Forbes 2014), so I guess it does not need any further explanations about decadence.
  2. Pálinka: Strong booze: well, yeah, pálinka is the most popular hard liqueur here, but not just any old type; the best is always the home-made version. According to new home brewing laws, you are even allowed to brew 84 litres (!) (147,8 pints) of pálinka at 50% alcohol, without taxation.
  3. Nazis: For those who don’t know, our prime minister is the deeply respected Mr. Viktor Orbán, who became famous (or rather notorious) during the migrant crisis due to his extremely intolerant and xenophobic views. His ideas are very much in harmony with the politics of Marine Le Pen and apparently he should have trade marked his speeches and program, because the new Polish prime minister actually copy-pasted them. But this guy doesn’t even represent our extreme right wing- he is only a national conservative! So not to be mistaken with Jobbik, who are the radical nationalists. Imagine those guys!

Let’s drop politics though. I would rather give you a still life of everyday Hungary, with the atmosphere and the way people feel here.

One of the nicest things I ever heard about Budapest from a foreigner was that the city is full of so-called “what the fuck?!-moments”. I did not quite get it right away but after some contemplation it became clear to me why: people are fucking mental here, and usually it all happens in public and during the day. Someone is always shit-faced and trying to fight, while in the background some low-life guy is urinating at a tram stop, some old rural-looking lady is trying to sell you flowers and in the meantime you’re being forced into signing yet another petition about the upcoming manifestations.

I always had the feeling that here the concentration of crazy/mentally disturbed people was extremely high. We have lunatics all over town who are constantly talking to themselves, screaming or just casually swearing in an astonishingly poetic way. Usually you can spot them on trams- for some reason this is their preferred means of transportation. High suicide rates and psychological illnesses are very common, with a high consumption of legal psychotics (Xanax is the most preferred one that any doctor throws at you if you’re feeling down for whatever reason). According to a recent forecast we might have approximately 1 million alcoholics in a few years, which is pretty insane for a country of 10 million. So if we suppose that kids don’t drink then pretty much every family is impacted by at least one alcoholic.

One of the other fascinating fun facts is the amount of guys flashing their genitalia in public. I think almost everyone has already had some experience with them (even my mom) which is first shocking but then you simply become aware of their existence, even hoping to see one because it is so twisted and absurd that you start liking this colourful spot on the country’s landscape. During my university years one precious flasher used to live on our street and he loved hanging out at his basement window.

He could hear your footsteps, so he positioned himself so that you would have the perfect viewing angle. The poor thing even had a desk lamp directed at his cock. To make this picture even more insane, at the window next to the flasher’s room, a very decent-looking old man would be sitting there, reading. Once I also saw a homeless-looking guy jacking off on the metro while browsing Playboy. He also had a bag of sandwiches with him. He was very quickly thrown out by security, but imagine the face on the passenger who took the guy’s seat after him, an open Playboy magazine and sandwiches welcoming them:“I see it must have been a great party here!”

My boyfriend is a foreigner here and he is always amazed by those small unimportant details on the street that no local would ever notice, because this is how things are. He discovered the existence of a certain “Pálinka Hulk” – or at least how he named this phenomenon – someone who drinks a whole bottle of cheap spirits then tears off walls, knocks out phone boxes or just simply damages whatever is closest to him then he leaves his empty bottle at the crime scene. But really, there is always an empty shitdrink right next to some tragic scene of misery or just the regular scenes of destruction that no one gives a fuck about.

About swearing…Swearing is a style, it is much more here than some low life screaming about God, shit and fuck, it is so eloquent that it is rather poetic. Seriously, who would not be moved by expressions like “Get fucked to death by lightning by sulphuric stones!”“You, rotten sperm!” or “May the reed cutting God rot the foot-smelling sky upon you!”, etc!? One of the most amazing facts about the Hungarian language is that you can express literally everything with the verb “fuck”. You just need to know some conjugation and a bunch of prefixes then you have already tripled your vocabulary. So basically you just say ‘to fuck in’ (get drunk), ‘fuck out’ (to throw out/to build muscles/to screw someone over), ‘fuck up’ (to piss off/to put something up), ‘fuck down’ (to tell someone off/to scold), ‘fuck away’ (to screw up) and so on and so on.

But despite all this insanity, let’s also admit that Hungary has given a lot to the world, had its decent share of inventions and contributions to the artistic and scientific scenes. Amongst many others: Vitamin C, security matches, ballpoint pens, holography, carriage coaches, carburettors for stationary engines and helicopters are all Hungarian inventions. And of course, the Pálinka Hulk. Pity, with Hungarian swear words being some of the most innovative, the swear jar isn’t among that list of inventions..

Categories
Alcohol Sex

Revolutionary Drinking in Marrakech

Part 1: Flying fantasies

I do not like flying. Any flight over 3 hours leads to the exact same morbid desire. Despite holding no suicidal impulses, I have a fantasy every long-haul flight that the plane would crash.

I long for the pilot maybe to have either marital problems or a long suffering gambling addiction that makes them just feel like life isn’t worth living anymore. Once their co-pilot decides to dose off for a small snooze, they nose-dive the fucking plane. The oxygen masks that they’re always on about but you never see actually come down from above. Ignoring the instructions that have been repeated a million times, the young parents quickly put the masks over their children’s mouths before placing them on their own. It is fucking carnage though. This fucker is going down. All awhile, I will be at peace knowing I’ll be finally liberated from seat 14 B to never have to see the fat American cunt who snored the entire flight in seat 14 C or the fella giving me a dirty look when I stood up to use the bathroom in seat 14 A.

Not that I have the desire to actually die but I simply find sitting still horribly insufferable. From the take off, I want the entire process to be over. In fact, I want it finished before I even approached the customs officer that ignores my pleas not to stamp a fresh page. At last, this is the pain I had to suffer through my returning flight to Marrakech for the pleasure of something I wasn’t entirely sure why I had got myself into. I kept promising myself this would all work out. The flight was simply the tax I paid for being raised by parents that were far too encouraging of my travels. That said, there was no need for that American in 14 C to clap when the plane landed. Fucking tosser.

Part 2: Traveling Alone

I had arrived in Marrakech for my second time under much different circumstance. For one, I was traveling alone. During my previous holiday, I was traveling with a girlfriend. Well, she wasn’t actually my girlfriend at the time but we fell in love during this holiday. Ironically, we were supposed to return together but through a comedic amount of errors it was not meant to be. Before leaving on this holiday, I sent a drunken message saying I missed her and she asked if she could come but my e-mail got blocked because I travel like a drug mule. We didn’t like each other after that.

By virtue of being alone, I had to contend that this visit to Morocco would be a far different experience. Traveling with your significant other is appealing to many because the variables of your experience are far more set in. You’re going to get laid, drink a lot of champagne, and have a basic pedestrian experience that could be touching. Returning to a place alone that is associated with a previous relationship seems like a bit of a gamble. If you fail, does that mean you have not progressed since that relationship’s failure? Were all those happy memories you had not because the country was so great but because of that significant other, thus leaving you empty? It seems all a bit emotionally risqué for this sailor.

There is something to be said that traveling alone is far more beneficial. Couples have ‘holidays’, not ‘trips’. For those who travel as a couple, I am sure you might disagree with this. However as something so precarious and threatening to unravel the foundations of a relationship as travel is, it is difficult to imagine couples traveling for more than experience of pleasure to enrich that bond. That’s why you see them in nice hotels instead of the cheapest hostels. It is all right to fail alone because it will be a good story, whereas with your significant other you might end up traumatizing someone. That shit never ends well.

Naturally, I was a bit hesitant about traveling alone in Morocco. Not that I hadn’t traveled alone before nor was I worried about my safety. It was just tricky. Conventional wisdom would say, Morocco is the sort of place you need to travel with others or you’ve got to be quick about meeting people. Sure, there is plenty of tourist stuff to do but that’s not much of a social experience. It isn’t the sort of place you’ll strike up a random conversation. I don’t really have a tremendous amount of witty anecdotes about the Koutoubia Mosque to strike up a conversation with the Korean guy wearing bunny shoes, I’ll confess. Dope shoes though. More pressing, the country isn’t really famed for its drinking culture; something which can be the social lubricant to make some new Facebook friends. You can smoke a lot of dope, hit up the whores – as a lot of French/Gulf region tourists do – but those aren’t my thing and a pint is a tricky task. It was a little bit of a concern. Either way, I was there and I was going to have to make the most of it.

Part 3: The Reintroduction

Arriving in Marrakech felt like visiting a place I had an outer body experience in: I had been there but it was new all over again. It felt strange not having the old missus coming with me, but Christ confronting this nervousness is what travel is about: challenging your fears, being unsure, and not having a fucking clue what you’re doing! Yes! Yes! I was going to get out there and stop being a sad cunt. More importantly, I was going to message someone I knew to help me out.

A mate from university who was originally from Marrakech suggested messaging his cousin to hang out with. He ended up arranging everything for me because he’s a doll like that. I was told to meet her at the Café De France in the center of the Medina. I sat in the café making notes about ideas for articles for the upcoming week when she showed up. When she approached me, I just thought, “Shit, I underdressed.” A telling effect of the lovely mélange of cultures in Morocco is that when a person dresses up in Morocco, they look about ten times classier than any normal bastard. She had all that sort of elegance you simply can’t purchase as exhibited by rich Russians in Dubai. Clearly, my mate had a liberal disposition towards friends falling in love with his family by arranging for me to meet one of the most beautiful people I had ever met. Really, nothing else could’ve happened but love. I was already picking kid’s names out.

For reasons beyond me, she refused to speak English for the first hour. I speak very poor French yet we carried on a conversation throughout that time period about how Marrakech feels, the state of the country, and a whole matter of issues I didn’t entirely understand altogether. Clearly, she picked up on that it was time to switch to English as this old sailor was drowning in his attempts to re-call how to conjugate ‘er’ verbs.

She suggested that we leave this highly touristy café and head to the new area of Marrakech. During my previous holiday, I had just stuck to the tourist shit in the old area that everyone sticks to. To be honest, it was a pretty large relief to see people not wearing that traditional shit with snakes and ‘Made in China’ goods. We settled into a great conversational rhythm once she agreed that maybe my French was not sufficient enough to uphold a conversation. Just covering every imaginable subject with ease. Our conversation had the cadence that you could only have with someone you’re very comfortable with.

She had invited two friends of hers to join us for the evening. Both were rather similar to her in that they were both cosmopolitans effortlessly going in and out of four languages, unbridled by stereotypes that reduce Arab women strictly to religious sub-servants to male domination. They drank, they smoked, and they openly questioned the sexual and political norms. In a city such as Marrakech, that is defined and propagated as a city of the past, it becomes difficult to imagine beyond the façade that is the Medina, the restaurant stalls, and the monkeys you can get your photo taken with. The size and scope of this imagination is so tremendous that it is difficult to step outside of this gaze. It is amazing how engulfed tourists become within the depiction of Marrakech as ancient city that a break from that image seems almost shocking.

Before meeting my new love interest, I had breakfast with an Aussie and Chilean girl. I suggested they come out for drinks with all of us. Like all people in their twenties, we all wanted to get drunk, up the sexual tension, and most importantly throw off the barriers of sobriety. How did we successfully do this? We played drinking games: Truth or Dare? and Never Ever Have I. These games became a means for this multicultural drinking table to express their sexual identity, political convictions, and break from the presumptions of national identities. One person could admit that they were a virgin while another person could express a sexual interest in the same sex without judgment. Our difference just fueled our curiosity in one other. What was fun about this table was that we were honest, defining and refining ourselves, and we were getting a little fucked up.

From the most superficial view, this would be what you expect from a group of twenty-some years old people drinking together: drinking, flirting, and the such, but you need to look at it more closely to find something more profound. What I was seeing was a complete break from all my preconceived notions. Of course, I knew there had to be a counterculture in Marrakech and the rest of Morocco. Cunts got the internet here, of course. Rather, I was surprised that it wasn’t just a small clique of European-educated elites but for a weekday night there was a bar full of dynamic young people engaged in similar activities. Perhaps there was a little bit more on the go here.

Part 4: Drinking to Change

Living in Marrakech for young people is hardly a simple life. As of 2015, Morocco is ranked 128 out of 188 in the Human Development Index. More pressing, the economic struggles for young people are enormous. Youth from the ages of fifteen to twenty-nine represent 44% of the working population yet unemployment for males is 22% and a dire 38% for females. The resulting consequence is a youth population demoralized and alienated from an economic system that doesn’t reflect their needs. Likewise, it remains in many areas extremely culturally conservative, restricting the conduct of a population of young people actively engaged in mass culture through the web. Added to this a monarchy that holds minimal confidence among the general population, young people aren’t exactly too thrilled.

In rejection of controlling mechanisms and a disenfranchising economic system, sexually active youth, political dissidents, and a whole swath of individuals look to challenge the cultural hegemony that oppresses them through a beautiful protest: they get fucked up and make out. What you realize is conjuring in these cafés drinking, making crass sexual jokes, and hooking up isn’t just some Friday night in Marrakech. Drinking is radical politics.

Obviously, getting pissed might be not exactly part of the standard cannon of combating oppression. However, working from the basic assumption that all acts are political and embedded within the most monotonous aspects of our lives: how we consume, how we fuck, how we behave, etc. then why can’t drinking be political? Furthermore, drinking is politicalized particularly in Morocco. The country is overwhelmingly Islamic and attempts were even made by certain city mayors to ban drinking. Boozing has emerged as a stand against dominant norms by the young. It is an affirmation that one views themselves not inherently counter-Islam but rather a secularist that will not accept or look to determine other’s behavior. What intrigues me is not only the boozing but also the roles bars, pubs, and cafes that serve liquor in fostering that resistance.

These drinking establishments not only serve to get young people in Marrakech drunk and maybe the occasional adventurous tourist some kisses but they become spaces of resistance and cultivating a counter-hegemonic movement that demands democracy, secularism, women’s rights, and sexual autonomy. They become spaces where young people not only can practice the identities that they authentically hold but also to contest those identities that oppress and openly questions the system of powers. What matters isn’t so much that they drink but rather that the space is one that individuals are able to can act critically towards power structures where this isn’t always possible. It is these spaces of resistance that facilitates the transformation from “common sense” that accepts the norms of society to “good sense” that questions those structures.

What is most exciting about young people in Marrakech drinking in pubs that serve as spaces of resistance is that their protest and stance is acted out through pleasure. Far too regularly, protest take on the image of some act of sacrifice but in this instance the agent of change for young Moroccans is the pleasure of getting fucked up and maybe getting laid. In many ways, it is almost ingenious to see because the brilliance of the protest is that it is bound to win because who honestly can say that getting pissed, laughing, and maybe getting some loving could be unappealing? I doubt anyone. You start wondering if all those fucking NGOs went about setting up pubs across the world, maybe we’d have a better world. First pints, then the revolution.

Conclusion

Like anything in life, narratives are constructed retrospectively. You might hope for certain emotions or ideas but the rigger of time is the only mechanism to give an event any significance. It took me some while to line up my thoughts about being in Marrakech. Unlike so many places that I also had struggled to place into prospective, Morocco never ceased to make me curious.

At a most basic level, seeing the dynamism of what I saw in Moroccan youth really is why I travel. Cunts go on about seeing natural beauty like mountains or waterfalls. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about that stuff. Brilliant! A large amount of matter complied upon more matter. Really, what intrigues me is seeing people take a circumstance augment it, challenge it, but most importantly refuse to sit down and passively accept life. That’s not how life is meant to be lived and to all our great fortune it seems a segment of the Moroccan youth agree with me. Whatever prejudice or presumption that you hold that Morocco is some oriental land, know something far more exciting is happening.

On a more personal level, I left Marrakech with a certain sense of unease. It certainly was far more of a ‘trip’ than ‘holiday’ in that I was actually leaving the country with some ideas. However, I had a dreaded flight ahead of me that surely do to amazing innovations in aerospace technology would deny me a spectacular death to escape the discomforts of flying. I was particularly uncomfortable about leaving my friends cousin behind without any real conclusion

We liked each other, we kissed, and we really did express a real happiness to meet each other. However, I just assumed like any passing traveler that this would be nothing more than a small crush. I went on my way, boarded my flight, mistakenly was served meat, wanted the plane to crash, and then arrived home to book other flights. It didn’t really profoundly hit me that this might have been an astronomical error in my ways till a couple months later. Like any idea, it took me a while but it came. After some conversations between my friends cousin and I, it was mutually decided with a strong degree of urgency that I book a flight as soon as possible back to Morocco which I’ll do relatively soon. That will certainly be one flight in which I’ll hope to survive despite maybe having to sit next to a clapper.