Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vienna, Austria on a Rainy Day

It was rainy and windy in Vienna this morning, so I just headed to the nearest museum that met my threshold: not a painting fewer than 9,000 (I mean, why even go?). Boy, did the Kunsthistorisches Museum out on Maria-Theresien-Platz fit the bill.

I found one jewel that really caught my eye:

This was by the famous Italian Renaissance master Titian, done in 1530 and entitled "Jesus gets a rare night out bowling." Beautiful.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Finding Poland: One Man's Burger Is Another Man's Kebab

Travelling broadens one's horizons, or should at any rate. I'm exiting my third country, heading to a fourth, while dipping on the train briefly back into my second. My first country on this trip was Sweden, I think. I should have written about these various countries from the start, but, well, there you are. Or, I should say, here I am, in Poland, but not for long.

People are people, though as a person who's lived in Japan, I realize some people are more different than others. There is, however, a bridge across the chasm between cultures that helps us discover our common humanity, and I've used it ever since I first travelled abroad some 42 years ago.

Know your fellow man's junk food, and you're halfway home.

It didn't take but reading a few signs around the central stations of Krakow to know which way to a man's heart, at least his most convenient one: the kebab, not to be confused with the shish form, I found out upon actually trying one.

(I'll refrain from gender stereotypes in some other post, but I pray women are somehow smart enough to stay away from kebabs to begin with. I fear they're not.)

Now, I've seen two made, but the first was for me and delivered in tag-team fashion from a kebab stand between train and bus stations in central Krakow. First, a young man charged me ‌nine zloty, which falls somewhat shy of three bucks; then an equally young woman who shared the mini-caravan with him took over, first selecting a round, flattened bread roll to slice and stick in a grilling press in hopes of heating it up and jazzing it up with parallel grill marks. The effort did not go well.

The bottom came free well enough, but the top, thinner piece was determined to camp out a little longer, a stunt that was not tolerated in the slightest by the young man, who intervened with a pair of tongs, hoping to salvage the operation. The top gave up in the end, but not before disintegrating into a number of pieces, the final tenth or so being the only successful hold-out. The man closed the lid on it; I suspect it was removed once it blackened considerably. I'll never know.

My assumption at this point was that the project would naturally begin anew, a notion of which I was quickly disabused as the man assembled the miscreant top in a vague form opposite the tidy bottom, all in a triangle-shaped paper sleeve. He then began assembling pickles, tomatoes, cucumbers, a cole-slaw-like concoction, and whatnot atop the bread, before turning to me -- who at this point had realized I'd already paid and neither of my hosts had demonstrated much English -- and asked, "A-sauce, a-spicy, a-no?"

Having no choice but to go all in, I replied, "Yeah, spicy, uh, you know, uh, spicy," while giving the universal hand sign that I hoped meant sort of in the middle, to which the man responded by shooting a couple of large squeezes from a couple of squeezable containers.

Next, he walked over to the vertical, rotating spit that was roasting all the while next to a vertical heating element with a V-shaped shield, where he proceeded to shave off hunks of what looked like chicken, although I haven't figured out yet how it came to be wrapped around the spit twenty inches tall and six inches wide without resembling a bird or anything I'm familiar with.

He laid a massive bunch of the meat on top of the foundering roll, and tossed more pickles and cucumbers on for good measure, and, as an afterthought, squeezed more of something on top. He handed me the bundle with what was either a look of satisfaction or supremely false confidence -- was that sheepishness I detected in his eyes? -- which I accepted with whatever look I could muster that didn't appear to be total surrender. I asked for some paper towels (I could see no napkins nearby); he gladly reached and pulled three off and handed them to me, knowing in his heart it was the least he could do.

I nodded, and we parted company.

I eventually finished the whole thing, though it took me much of the rest of the day to do it. In the end, I had to admit I enjoyed it, this first confrontation with a kebab.

Now you and I both know just about all we need to know about the Polish. Okay, they also have Polish dogs and enough kielbasa to give an entire Russian army heart attacks, but the kebab in the several city centers I saw ruled supreme.

All right, they also have history and culture and probably a lot of other stuff, but I was too busy trying not to drop my kebab to ever find out. I imagine they're very much like us, only more Polish.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Reasoned Decision on Syria: Don't Bomb

I wish I could say that I'd reached this outlook on my own. It was left to Chris Hayes to make up my mind for me: Bombing Syria, while compelling on a few levels, is likely to do way more harm that good.

I'd heard the arguments for and against. At first I was all in; then I was against; finally I was "conflicted," which is shorthand for "I know I should be better than this but I want to bomb the fuck out of Assad."

Chris Hayes brought me to the right place. Listen to him explain:

I'm convinced. Let's stay out of it.