Amsterdamn It’s Nice Here

No hills. So the town is filled with beautiful, rickety, cruiser-bikes with coaster brakes. But filled with them. Every little tree and post. Each bridge and fence, with parked bikes. Baskets lashed to their fronts. Saddle bags. Some with two extra seats attached for kids. Some with front end boxes fitted with glamorous baby seats. A family of five coasts by on two bikes.

The city street has never felt more right, more sane. Yet somehow all the green transport–the bikes, the silent streetcars–make for a faux-harrowing cross. Forever in a bike lane or quiet cobblestone road, it is impossible to lose the impression that you are on a pedestrian lane, and not about to silently intersect with one or another form of silent transport.

A teeny little electric car can come out of nowhere. A bike lane feels as soft and warm as cinnamon toast. So Hatbox Louie keeps pulling me to safety. Not out of the way of anything, but away from a potential collision. The cars politely stop. and the bikes slow, and gently-expertly swerve. Most every lane is a vehicular lane, but the vehicles are green and safe.

Hatbox Louie and I have not needed to pull out our trump card. In La Paz and Mexico City, we developed a formal method for safe street crossing. We began by letting locals be our guides. They crossed, we crossed. Then necessity dictated a variation on the theme. We allowed, nay demanded, of our local friends not merely guidance. We learned to position ourselves such that they became human shields.

They cross, and we cross–four feet from them on the non-oncoming-traffic side. An impact of vehicle with them would hurl them toward us, and by way of warning or actually thrusting us out of the way, these locals would live on in our future lives as legend.

We have not needed human shields here. Just a wake up from complacency. Since even in the most wonderful, canal-striped, dream of a city you can die violently. And that would be a bummer that niether of us could countenance.

Published in: on December 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm  Comments (1)  

Prague Christmas–A Blue Week For Czech Carp

Christmas in Prague. A very bad place to be a carp. All over the city there are stations set up like this:

Carp Death Station-Mala Strana

People have been lining up every day to pick out a fish, have it cleaned or just killed, or occasionally, stuck in a plastic bag still alive.

Apparently, a carp on Christmas here is like a Turkey on Thanksgiving in the U.S. You just gotta have it. I have been watching the slaughter for days. My morbid curiosity won’t allow me to pass a killing station without watching at least two fish be dispatched, cleaned and filleted. Hatbox Louie stands politely aside.

It all begins when a customer picks out a fish from the tank:

Carp Not Long For This World

The fish guy grabs it with a net, drops it on a scale then, holding it struggling to the board, delivers a quick blow to the head with a wooden club:

A Stunning Blow

The struggling ceases, and the bloodbath begins. These guys don’t even wear gloves. Their hands must be freezing. Off to Amsterdam tomorrow. Ciao, Dr. Nostrum

Published in: on December 23, 2006 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dispatch From Prague–Where’d the Yids Go?

As Hatbox Louie said, we spent most of the day musically in 1985. Yes, what the French inexplicably have for Jerry Lewis, the Czechs seem to have for Lionel Ritchie. All day, in multiple places, Lionel Ritchie.

I think we are over it now, but if you’re looking to feel good about Europe, I can’t recommend Prague’s former Jewish quarter, which was a walled Jewish ghetto for hundreds of years. I say former because all of Prague’s 120,000 Jews were sent to camps to die in 1942.

What’s left is a neighborhood empty of Jews, but filled with tacky remembrances–a kind of sick Jewish theme park. One—no longer functioning–synagogue is a museum with displays of prayer books, silver items, Torah scrolls, yarmulkes and the like, under glass. It’s all presented seemingly without irony, and has a natural history museum quality—as if to say, “look what used to live here! Can you believe it?”

Another synagogue serves admittedly as a moving monument to the region’s murdered Jews. The inner walls are filled with their painted names. Tiny script, floor to ceiling on every wall on multiple levels, it gives a sense of the scope of the tragedy. There are also drawings by children made while they waited in Czech concentration camps nearby before being shipped off to Poland. The old Jewish cemetery is here too, and packed 15 bodies deep since it was the only place in the city where Jews could be buried.

Jewish Cemetery

Little kiosks and stores in the neighborhood sell dancing rabbis and other tasteful memorabilia, but this utility company clothing store sign just across the way truly seemed too bad to be true:

Across from the museum commemorating the 120,000 slaughtered Czech Jews

Also disquieting, on the way back we passed Prague’s actual working synagogue which serves the 3000 Jews left in the city. It is fronted by anti-truckbomb barricades, and two police officers. as anti-Semitic acts of violence are on the rise in Europe.

So I think I can be forgiven for later asking Hatbox Louie, after watching a McDonald’s add in German, if she thought that if we went there we could Ubersize our Arbeit Macht Frei’s.

Prague is a great city and we are having a very nice time. We just need to focus on beer and puppets and stay away from synagogues.

Published in: on December 21, 2006 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dispatch From Prague–Slav At First Sight

Well, we barely made it. Our flight was very late leaving Edinburgh, and it took us an hour to get to our departure gate in Paris after arriving. Don’t get me wrong, I love the French to death, but my god, get it together people. The connecting flight itself was so late that we made it anyway. A miracle. I heard Hatbox Louie murmur as we were lifting off, that she felt she barely touched down in Edinburgh.

Now here we are in Prague. So far it’s as if the town was made for walkers. There is so much to gaze at, and every few blocks you come out to a new square filled with stalls of the many Christmas markets. Hot wine around every corner. Stall after stall selling what seems to be the majority of the world’s pig supply. Maybe someone elsewhere can confirm that they are running low on pigs?

Sausages of every color length and design, whole pigs roasting on spits. There are lots of batters being deep fried and dusted. Roasting chestnuts. Hatbox Louie says the entire city smells like bacon.

Perusing the pamphlets from the lobby there seems to be an endless variety of activities. What trip to central Europe would be complete without a visit to the Thai massage, restaurant, and bowling center. A classic combo. I can’t so much as smell pad thai without longing to bowl a few frames. They “welcome you in a original milieu where you certainy need not worry, that will let you from enjoying the exotic atmosphere and reaching maximal relaxation.” The last bit seems rather pointed, no?

So, a beautiful city so far. Even the convenience stores are charming. I think I will look into why there is Hebrew swirling around the head of the Jesus statue on the Charles 4th Bridge. Seems a bit odd. I hardly think it is to emphasize his being Jewish. Never seen that much played up. More soon. Dr. Nostrum

Published in: on December 19, 2006 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Final Dispatch From Edinburgh

Well, the bags are packed and the flat is clean. Tomorrow we are off to Prague. Another chapter in this bizarre book is written. It didn’t work out as planned, but maybe it will prove to have worked out in some way.

No home, no job. No…that’s not the right spirit. Free again. Free to figure out the next chapter. Maybe something great is right around the corner. Could be, who knows?

I hope to post on our trip. Prague then Amsterdam, then the good ol’ US of A. Trader Joe’s, we’re close.

More from the continent soon. Ciao, Dr. Nostrum

Published in: on December 17, 2006 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Done Been Taggered

Well, as Connie Chung is my witness, I haven’t been tagged since I was boot high to a bondage queen. My oh my. I feel found. Found and lost at once. And I swear, as the guy that played Schneider on One Day At A Time is my witness, I had no post for today. So I am compelled and pleased to produce 3 sentences of Nicole Krauss’s, The History of Love.

Vamos Bibi! he cried. And yet. No one came.

There it is. Come on, Bibi. Let’s go. You always get dressed at the last minute and make us run late. I can’t stand it. You knew when you married a person who is the adult survivor of an OCD alcoholic, that punctuality would be a thing with me.

Now you push it. You push it always to the last minute. I’ll be expected to host this party, and you’ll descend the stairs dramatically like a well coiffed dowager expecting to light up the room, without lifting a finger to help. And are you just being Bibi? No. Am I so controlling that you must manipulate me, create time pressure in my heart, to make me uncomfortable? Ok. You’re right. I’m compulsive and punctual and anxious, and you are freewheeling and loose and mellow. Fine. You have shown me! You have illuminated me to me!

You know what Bibi? Fuck you. We’re done. I am a nurturing, loving, fascinating person. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life apologizing for who I am. I will find someone who can not tolerate, but appreciate the me of me. You’re on your own. Ciao Bibi. Ciao.

In fairness to Nicole Krauss, I have no idea even what her book is about. Hatbox Louie is reading it, and it was in grabbing distance.

I tag Firefly, Cowgirl Curio, and raincoaster, who was first on the list under the ‘Books’ tag. Sorry or you’re welcome depending on your mood.

Published in: on December 16, 2006 at 7:15 pm  Comments (1)  

Dispatch from Edinburgh-Scottish FoodFest ’06

Seeing as Hatbox Louie and I are leaving Edinburgh on Monday, we decided to have a Scottish foodfest. The Bill of Fare:

Bubble and Squeak (Rumbledethumps)
Toad in the Hole
Scottish Kippers
Potato Scones


Haggis— Sheep’s ‘Pluck’: heart, liver, lungs. With onion, oatmeal, suet, and spices. Boiled in the animal’s stomach. Scotland’s answer to the Hot Pocket.

Holy Heavenly Haggis

Origin: Intense nourishment for old Scottish cattle drovers during their long trip down through the glens to the market in Edinburgh.

Robert Burns wrote of haggis:

“Fair Fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!”


World Record: 1.5 pound haggis hurled 180ft 10 in. on an island in Loch Lomond in 1984.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“Creamy, spicy, Scottish risotto. Haggis is a culinary joke, but if you served it in New York or San Francisco, you’d get $30 a plate. As long as you called it something else. It’s a marketing problem.” After a large sip of whiskey: “You know the Scots are gonna be independent when they eat this stuff, this is nation-building food.”

Hatbox Louie’s response to my question, “Do you want my casing?”: near-gagging. I took that as a qualified no.

Bubble and Squeak: (Rumbledethumps in Scotland) Shallow-fried leftover veg from a roast dinner. In effect, here in Scotland, mashed potatoes and cabbage.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“What’s not to like? It’s mashed potatoes. I admire them not getting too hung up on the veggies. They use them like we use parsley.”

Toad in the Hole: Sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“The hole, I love. The toad, I’m not so sure. Now put some haggis in the hole and you’ve got something.”

Kippers: Scottish Herring split in half, and cold smoked.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“Fishiest, saltiest thing ever. It’s the fish that ate the fish, that ate the fish. Then whipped up with some fish extract. I like it.”

Potato Scones: If latkes were like regular pancakes, but with potatoes in the batter. Obviously delicious.

And so it passed. We could not quench our thirst for water after this meal. I felt the entire weight of Her Majesty’s Empire lowering my center of gravity. If not for the courage of the fearless whiskey, I might even have cared.

It was not a light meal, but as a gesture of leave-taking, it was the right meal.

Scotland, adieu.

Published in: on December 15, 2006 at 4:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Signs Medicine Was Not The Career For Me-#2

It occurs to me that in my years in medicine, I really made only one lasting contribution. A therapeutic technique that is effective in relieving boredom and ennui. It can make tolerable the most tedious activity, liven up the most tiresome situation.

It works like this. The practitioner uses a sharp–but not too sharp–implement (say a toothpick that once held a sample square of grocery store cheddar, and is now on hand in the checkout line–a classically boring situation).

The implement is applied lightly to the exposed skin of the victi patient repeatedly. This should cause not pain, but a light pricking sensation followed by a vague itchiness. The neck, shoulders, ears are all good candidates for application. The treatment continues until all sense of boredom has resolved.

I call it: Accu-bother.

This is my one contribution to the grand biomedical edifice. I am compelled to mention that the chief subject of the phase 1 trials of Accu-bother, a Hatbox Louie, has suggested that the boredom-reducing benefits of the therapy accrue only to the clinician, while the patient is beset by myriad side effects. Chiefly: agitation, hightened flight-or-fight response, and a striking reduction in libido.

Well, medical science marches forward in baby steps, so I won’t be discouraged. Just gotta find some more subjects. Maybe it could help catatonics.

Published in: on December 14, 2006 at 5:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Sideways New York

I had a vision. Or was it a dream? Manhattan was out of room.

The sky was filled with scrapers, and for obvious reasons, nobody was excited about building even taller buildings.

There was only one solution: Sideways New York.

You know when you’re sitting in the waiting room at the dentist, and you pick up that book with page after page of abstract designs? If you hold it just so and let your eyes go out of focus, unicorns and dolphins and rainbows will slowly emerge from the image in 3-D. That is how Sideways New York works.

There is another New York at a 90 degree angle to the old one. To enter it, you put your left foot up onto the sideways street. Let your mind relax and your eyes go out of focus. Slowly, the sideways city will emerge as the correctly oriented one and the old town will be sideways, and off you go.

Amazingly, with old New York at 90 degrees to you now, no gum comes rolling of its streets onto the new town. The dancers at the strip clubs don’t have tatas pointing at right angles (then again, saltwater has always unburdened them from the exigencies of gravity). Walking around on the Sideways Upper East Side, you are in no danger of being crushed by a fur-laden petrified rich lady and her lapdog. A trip to the Sideways Upper West Side doesn’t end with a faceful of shmears from H&H bagels. It works. Everything stays put.

Want to get back? Put your right foot up onto old New York, relax, cross your eyes, and in a flash you can be on your way to Broadway to see the 9003rd performance of The Producers, now starring Cubby from the Mousketeers and Dweezil Zappa.

I need to find a city planner. Yes, a city planner with schizophrenia. And undermedicated. Yes. This could be big.

Published in: on December 13, 2006 at 5:46 pm  Comments (2)  

Dispatch From Edinburgh-The Medicine Show’s A-travelin’

Well Hatbox Louie and I have pulled the plug. We gave notice on our apartment, and the same day, a couple came to see it, and they are taking it. The only catch is they need to move in a week from now. So we are all ascramble. There is a tremendous overlay of bureaucracy here that is hard to disentangle from. Well, 25 bucks will get us a flight to Brussels from Glasgow. That’s a start.

The problem is, now we are back at sea. No home, no clear plan. Just footloose and f…lashdance?
But maybe a brief saunter through Amsterdam will clear the head–the way that only Dutch beer and Utrecht Gold Leaf can. I know it seems great to just hop over to Europe for a while, but it requires a real mental discipline to enjoy oneself with so much uncertainty in the offing.

One great thing about leaving a place is that any feelings of melancholy or nostalgia that begin to form are immediately replaced by annoyance at trying to cancel utilities, sell books to snipped little imperious second-hand booksellers, dodge the property taxes that renters have to pay! (I don’t see that happening.) But the upswing is that we can’t wait to get the hell out of here.

So a few more posts from here, and then hopefully some fun posts from the continent. Well, Hatbox Louie wants to vacuum pack my skivvies, and I don’t want to miss that–the little giraffes get all mooshed up together under the plastic. Priceless. Ciao, Dr. Nostrum

Published in: on December 12, 2006 at 3:56 pm  Comments (3)