June 11, 2007

Paris, France
Blue State Anxiety

The Paris affair was much more low-key than Madrid. Only a fifth of the turn-out – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but also a more subdued attitude. The Spaniards had something to prove to me, and they did. With the French, I felt like I had something to prove.

They’d seen the video and they liked it well enough to show up, but there were certain qualities to my endeavor that had yet to be ascertained. It’s probably my own insecurities at work, but I felt like I had to show I wasn’t just another arrogant, ignorant American.

Not that anyone was rude about it, mind you. They just weren’t sure what to make of the whole thing until we got underway.

There seemed to be a big shift in attitude around the second or third take. They got that it isn't really about me this time. It's about them.

I’ve done six of these group events so far. Every one of them leaves me breathless. I’ve never been much of a participant in group efforts; be they religious, musical, charitable, chemical, or what-have-you; I was always the dork in the corner with his head glued to the GameBoy screen, so the exhilaration is new to me. It takes me an hour or so to come back down out of the clouds.

We’re also getting a lot better at it – Melissa and I. We’ve learned some tricks and some things to avoid. I wish we could go back to the UK with what we know now.

…might have to at some point.

We flew in from Madrid yesterday on a 5am RyanAir flight. Anyone who’s ever flown RyanAir, let’s all share a groan of despair.

Arrived in Paris semi-conscious, slept until it was time for the shoot. After it was done, we stood around talking to the other dancers, lots of pictures and a few autographs – which is a new one for me – no media to deal with this time. When the last person finally got sick of us and left, we strolled off across the city.

Melissa has never been to France before, so there was lots to check out. We did bored-face snapshots.

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The idea came from someone who emailed me a while back. I hate taking snapshots and I almost never bother, but this, like dancing badly, makes it fun.

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Notre Dame? How about Notre Dumb?

…No. Wait. Notre Lame!

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Musee Du Louvre? More like Musee Du Who-Gives-a-Crap!

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So, mission accomplished. We proved Americans aren’t the fatuous slobs they think we are. On to Belgium, where I fear some snap observations I made many yarrons ago may come back to bite me in the ass.

May 23, 2006

Rødby, Denmark
Wi-Fishing

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I’m on a train on a boat. Apparently they can do that. The train rumbles up onto the ferry, gate closes, and off we go. I feel like a LEGO man.

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We’re en route from Paris, overnight. Got stuck in a cabin with two other guys. Four men sleeping in a tiny, bedless room requires some degree of…intimacy. One of our roommates was Indag, an Ethiopian working at Mother Teresa’s care center in Addis Abba.

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Wonderful guy, but virtuous qualities aside, I’m not sure he knows about soap.

Don't have much to report on Europe. It's still Europe. Been Europe for a long time. Likely to remain so.

Most of what I've seen has been from the window of a train. At this point, to be honest, my sightseeing receptors have been worn down to dull nubs. I'm on country number 37 since December. Just working on a project now. Very close to finishing and trying to make it as good as it can be. Any side experiences are incidental.

Matt is the perfect companion for where my head is at right now. His superhuman endurance is matched only by his superhuman indifference.

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"Hey Matt, how about we take the 8am from Amsterdam back to Paris, then catch the metro to the airport and another train to Haute-Picardie station in the middle of nowhere? Once there, we sit by the side of the tracks for two hours and you film me dancing every time a high-speed train passes by. Then we go back to Paris so we can catch the overnight to Copenhagen and then the next available cargo ship to Norway so I can go dance on a rock wedged between two cliffs."

"...yep. Okay."

"Oh, and since my wallet was stolen, would you mind paying for everything while we wait for the wire transfer to go through?"

This is not meant to imply he's some sort of traveling zombie. Most of the time he's actually leading the way; a whiz with train schedules, way more on the ball at making arrangements, and generally more attentive about where we are, where we're going, and when we need to grab our stuff and run.

I've said it before: there is no better travel companion than an Australian. They're like Wookies.

Aside from the dancing stuff, our primary focus is the constant need to find free wi-fi.

Eifel Tower? Whatever. Where's the McDonald's?

It's not the food, mind you. They've usually got fast, free signals.

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The most pathetic display is at train stops, when one of us (usually me) pings the local networks for an unsecured signal from within the train. In the rare event that we find one, both of us scramble to complete our respective e-tasks before the train pulls out again.

I am not proud.

Left Paris the first time -- what, a week ago now? Took the overnight to Munich and met up with Melissa's old friend, Martin.

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Despite appearances, Martin is not, in fact, Ben Stiller with glued-on facial hair.

Still groggy from our fourth straight night on a train, Martin took us out to a traditional Bavarian breakfast of white sausages and beer.

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The beer was great. The sausages weren't.

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We were instructed in proper sausage-eating technique. You're supposed to put one end in your mouth and squeeze the meat out, avoiding the skin, which shouldn't be eaten.

I'll spare you the pictures. They are...graphic.

On reflection, this may have been a practical joke.

Joining us for the day: Golo.

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Golo is a flight attendant for Lufthansa. He shaves his arm pits, and yet he is not gay.

Here is one of 200 pictures Golo took of us.

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Golo generously entertained for the day while Martin worked. He insisted we suck the marrow from the bone that is Munich.

Here's some old building.

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Guys surfing on the river Isar, which feeds into the Danube. They have some net set up beneath the surface to create a constant, fixed wave.

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Tragically blurry action shot.

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Walked through the English Garden. Played some frisbee. Napped under a tree. Watched the nudists sunbathe.

I try to take public nakedness in stride, as do many of us. I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from taking their clothes off -- even the old fat guys are an amusing spectacle. But coming straight out of the Middle East, it's still hard to fathom the mental baggage that comes with culture; the incredible breadth of ways in which we live.

Over a mildly inebriated dinner, Matt put forth the evidence suggesting the World Trade Center was, in fact, demolished from within by pre-placed explosives. As the lone American, my nationalistic pride renders me incapable of accepting the horrific truths implied.

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It is more than likely that this picture exists solely because of the blonde in the middle.

Golo took it. Golo who is not gay.

Another overnight train. Next stop: Berlin.

Ah, Berlin. What can I say about my six whole hours there?

Neat wall.

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Got one of my all-time favorite dancing clips. One of those unplanned moments you can't duplicate.

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Still more evidence that what Germany finds sensual and erotic is, to me, hideous and disturbing.

Train to Amsterdam to meet up with Sophie for the third time on this trip. Caught her in Australia just before she moved. Met up with her in China while she was en route. And here she is, settling into her new job and life in The Netherlands; my favorite country whose name starts with a definite article.

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Amsterdam was sort of a break for us. What little motivation we had to do anything was beaten back into its hole by her neighbor's fast, unsecured wi-fi connection. We mostly just went out when it wasn't working.

In my defense: I have no money or credit cards right now and Western Europe is very, very expensive. Peeing costs $1.25. Using my computer is one of the only free things I can do.

Plus it connects me to home. And I'm ready to be home.

The big dancing clip idea for the Netherlands was to visit Delft University of Technology, where some students recently created the world's largest 3D display.

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It's a matrix of ping pong balls with red diodes inside of them. When assembled, the screen is 8 meters wide, 4 meters tall, and 2 meters deep. It plays animations, rudimentary 3D games, and displays SMSs that are sent to it.

We devoted an evening to the search, but all we found was this.

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It was down for the day.

Would've been neat.

Oh, well.

Sophie's back-up suggestion was to dance in the tulip fields. I was skeptical at first, but her pictures swayed me. Devoted another afternoon to that one.

Turns out the tulip window ended two weeks ago and they're all gone.

Oh, The Netherlands, why do you spurn me so?

Went to the Van Gogh museum. Saw the "Potato Eaters," "Wheat Field with Crows," "Bedroom in Arles." But alas, my favorite, "Starry Night," was not there. It's either in Paris or New York.

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He's one painter whose work you've really gotta see firsthand. I'm far from an art connoisseur, but there's something about those thick globs of paint -- the texture, the way the light shines off it.

Soph took us on a tour of Amsterdam's famous red light district. No pictures allowed.

Saw the window-lined streets with hookers on display like zoo animals. Entrances to live sex performances everywhere you turn.

It was fascinating.

I'd like to declare that we should all break the shackles of repression and embrace such zones in every city, but I've gotta admit it was pretty messed up. Lots of men behaving badly. Unpleasant.

Not sure the benefits outweigh the damage.

Oh, and the pot thing. Wow. If you don't like the smell of marijuana, don't go to Amsterdam.

Watched Da Vinci Code. Lots of interesting things going on there, but as a movie, I thought it was utter crap.

They didn't even try to make anyone interesting. So many hugely talented actors, but except for Ian McKellan's queeny scenery-chewing, no one had anything to do.

I must confess though, it did give me an idea...

Left Amsterdam for Paris, stopping briefly to change trains in Brussels. Since Matt is about 10 times smarter than me, I enjoy engaging in the one thing I'm better at: movie trivia. We passed the time playing Six Degrees.

Connected Jet Li to Estelle Getty in three names. Eddie Vedder to Posh Spice in four. Errol Flynn to Halie Joel Osment in five. Matt finally stumped me with Kurt Russell to Patrick Swayze using only actors they've killed or been killed by in films.

I returned the volley with a more left-brained challenge: give me the highest prime number under 10,000. He opened his laptop, wrote a prime number generator, and gave me the answer in 5 minutes.

Nerds in transit.

On our first stop in Paris a week ago, we failed to get a dancing clip in front of a high-speed TGV train. After some research online, I learned the best place to go trainspotting is the remote outpost of Haute-Picardie station. To quote from the shockingly relevant web page:

"Haute-Picardie belongs to a rare breed of stations: it is located directly on a high speed line, with platforms just a few meters from the TGV Nord-Europe tracks. Only a handful of trains stop there each day; most pass on through without slowing...there isn't a building for miles around, except for the station itself. The reason is this: TGV Haute-Picardie is the child of a sterile political controversy, revolving around which of two nearby cities should have got TGV service. The conflict was artfully resolved by the French government with a compromise: the station was built in between, or to be exact, in the middle of nowhere. For what this station is otherwise worth, it is without doubt a great place to watch TGVs, which is precisely the matter that concerns us here."

Indeed it is!

We arrived at the station with two hours before our return train to Paris. In that time, I danced in front of as many trains as we could manage to catch. See the thing is, those trains move REALLY FAST!

I mean you don't even see them coming. And they're going about 1/3 the speed of sound, so you can't hear them either. It's just a spontaneous, exhilarating burst of wind and fury every ten minutes or so.

We caught about a dozen clips from every distance and angle we could think of. Most of them didn't work, but one is golden. I made sure to lift my feet off the ground as I danced, cause I just know I'll get comments insisting I sped up the footage.

But you can't speed up jumping. No, it's for real. The trains really go that fast.

Back to Paris, caught the overnight to Hamburg, changed trains to Copenhagen, and here we are.

Tomorrow we arrive in Norway, and the next day we're heading to the fjords to attempt the most death-defying clip I've ever done: Kjeragbolten.

I'm not much of a death-defier. I may try and reason with it, but ultimately what happens is up to death's discretion.