It was important to me that a brutal hangover not define the second leg of our visit. After eight or nine hours of deep convalescing and gagging back bottles of whole fruit puree and several cans of something called Kofola, followed by a triumphant-if-wobbly set of fifty pushups, I felt sufficiently resuscitated for exploration. Once out of doors, the crisp November chill was its own medicine, helping to further refortify my wilted zeal.

My immediate impression of Old Town Prague: a pewter-colored paradise, both beautifully grim and palpably affluent. My people came from this part of the world over a hundred years ago. It certainly felt like a place I might have some roots in.

Besides the Kafka and Mozart connections, I remembered Prague as being a popular gap year spot for all those spotty-faced philosophy and anthropology majors back in the nineties. For all I know, it may still be a going concern for that crowd. It was a little difficult for me to really get in to the place for the throngs of tourists; the place is just lousy with them. For contrast, there are the local commuters, recognizable by how they haul ass everywhere (scurrying for the sake of scurry, if you ask me). You cannot stroll through town without feeling conspicuously casual whilst in their harried midst. Meanwhile, the tourists were all day and night gawping and snapping pictures with their smartphones, as well as their I-Pads (which looks excessively dumb). Other than a few snaps of the ol’ lady up against some of the carved granite scenery, I didn’t take a single photograph; I wasn’t trying not to, I simply didn’t feel compelled. My sense was that Prague had already had all the mystique snapped out of it thousands of times over and counting. Other than proof positive that — Hey, lookit me in Prague that one time! — what was really the point? That’s all I witnessed around me: tourists collecting some Facebook fodder. Watching all the people strike their contrived smiles with a canned candidness induced in me a tectonic groan or two. I think, if you could stand the cold, the best time to see the clock and the square and the bridge and all that stuff would probably be around four in the morning on a Tuesday in mid-February, (or anytime during the next flood).


One thing that struck me about my first experience abroad, starting from Madrid and ending at Heathrow, was the near absolute homogeneity of all peoples everywhere, though particularly in their manner of dress. Everyone from rebel fighters in Syria to child molesters in Daytona Beach seem to agree: distressed jeans represent the sartorial zenith in bottom apparel, even if one or two un-evolved curmudgeons like myself think they make the double-knit lapel-a-thons of the seventies seem downright natty and individual in retrospect. I’m sorry, but I will never understand the idea of wearing what are meant to be utilitarian trousers with bizarre wear patterns blasted into them that both weaken the fabric and defy all physiological explanation. Maybe I’m just annoyed because I quite often find myself absentmindedly wondering what the wearer of said dungarees would have had to be doing for the last several years in order to have giant, perfectly rectilinear fade spots on the backs of their thighs, when I could instead be wondering about…other…more…Godly pursuits…

I’m not about to suggest that this quotidian creep doesn’t extend throughout Bohemia as well, but their brand of sameness was effectively mitigated by looking so collectively sharp. Seamlessly book-matched to the Gothic spires and up-lit edifices shrouded in cold fog were knee-high leather boots, scarves and dramatic wool coats. I mostly credit this to the frigid temperatures while I was there, but I fantasize about some broader, stylistic underpinnings. Even our cab driver was dapperer than the original Dan.

I hadn’t packed enough season-appropriate duds myself, so after day two, the urge to hide in the hotel room and eat free food was great — a temptation upset by all the mirrors placed throughout my quarters. A lot of hotels really like to jazz up their guest rooms by installing mirrors on every vertical surface without a window or door, making a person uncommonly aware of themselves from every angle. I don’t care how much of an Adonis you fancy yourself, (I do not), it really gets old. So, I recycled my one pair of long underwear and sallied forth to buy some coffees and Budweisers, both of which are entirely different beasts in the CR. Not unlike the Euros I pissed away in Portugal, I found it dangerously easy to part with the candy-colored Kronas, depicting hirsute men with impressively delineated eyebrow musculature. The money is downright psychedelic-looking in contrast to the grim granitescape in which I pissed it away, where the sun starts to go down at half-past three and where I saw almost nobody smile, laugh or flirt.

Alongside everything being dark and chubby and blocky and Gothic, (like a lot of the chicks you knew in high school!), the absence of foliage in and around the square really added to the post-apocalyptic gloom of the town. On my first trip to the astronomical clock, there was a crazy bagpipe/tablas/bass guitar trio performing drone-y minor key ragas in druid robes and long hair. They matched perfectly the mood of the place, much more so than the weird dixieland jazz & 80’s MOR I heard pouring out of everyplace else. It was actually some pretty good din for being in the heart of such a touristy area, and I kinda regret not buying their disc they had available for purchase.

And that wraps up my flea-bitten, rambling insights on Eastern and Western Europe. This will likely be as close to a travelogue as I’ll ever dare veer. I still don’t understand how people like Bill ‘n’ Ted travel in what amounts to perpetuity. I can honestly say I will never have passport envy, and I suspect even more than before that for a lot of people, world travel is more about the status than experience or personal edification; doing something exotic to say they did something exotic. Of course, there are still parts of this fantastic planet I need to investigate: the Outer Hebrides, the forested foothills of Mount Fuji, and maybe even a quick romp through Antarctica. Still, on the heels of this last adventure, I’m not in anything like what I’d call a hurry.




As far as drinking goes, I don’t — or only rarely do. I half entertain notions of an autumn awash in Glenlivet, if for no other reason than to help attenuate those inevitable demons of hindsight I’ll be battling by that time. I sometimes think it’s for this last gasp that I’m keeping the kidneys pink. In the meantime, I can take alcohol or leave it. Maybe I was born without the juicer gene in the same way that some are born without wisdom teeth or earlobes,  but I’ve just never thought it improved anyone or anything, and have never understood them what romance habitual substance abuse. Instead, I’ve worked to foster healthier habits, including actively avoiding the kinds of people and situations where I might feel tempted to abuse alcohol as an asthesic buffer or social unguent in the first place.

However, on those increasingly rare occasions when I do drink, (as in DRINK), I’m extremely careful in my selection and meter. Bourbon treats me right, whereas just whiffing a glass of Bordeaux gets me tight. Whenever I do misstep — and once every ten years or so, I do — it’s usually a gloriously shambolic affair ending in soft S’s, body aches and certain disgrace.

With absinthe, it was quite different. I never felt drunk. I even carefully flossed all 32 teeth before bedding down early that morning in Lisbon on my perfectly firm melba-like mattress in the Hotel Mondial. None of the indications were present: no sweats, no centrifugal phantoms, not much in the way of weaving or staggering; I wasn’t speaking in my Cookie Monster voice, (a ridiculous coping mechanism for whenever I’m bombed), and neither was I trying to seem extra-sober (another such mechanism). Neither upon rising six hours later did I feel like my life was about to shred apart around me, one terrifically undersized vomit bag at a time. That’s how absinthe works, that dirty, gummy-haired whore; instead of barreling roughshod across your blood-brain barrier like any proper spirit, she slips in slowly & furtively, and once installed, gets busy with her big green strap-on, fucking your brain into two messy halves, and then messy quarters with all the violent momentum of a dozen baby grands hurled from the tip of Mycerinus.

I first crossed paths with this appropriately-colored toxin after making contact with Bill ‘n’ Ted (no, not really) on our last two nights in Lisbon. Bill’s a former colleague of my wife’s, which is how I first met him. On the surface, Bill’s a former jock with an uncommon yen for hair gel, easy money, and AM radio talking points; beneath the surface lurked more of the same. It’s Bill’s street smarts that make him takeable. He’s got a little of the hustler in him, which is always likable. Ted was Bill’s coworker, who I’d never met before. Ted seemed cut from much the same bolt as Bill, albeit with slightly duller shears. A jaded slob who casually referred to his mother as a boozing slut and insisted more than once how he didn’t want to live past the age of 55, I could tell Ted had serious demons — which, good or bad, is better than no texture at all (which is most people). It was on the second evening we all met up, and our last in Lisbon, that we repaired to a little Japanese restaurant, having burnt-out on shellfish, baccalau, and other standard Lisboan fare.

Unlike myself, Bill and Ted were incredibly well-traveled for their age, both of them working in IT for a major cruise line. Despite their chubbed-out Passports, however, they remained unmistakably and unapologetically a couple of South Florida crackers. The table wine that evening served as a kind of grape-flavored paint stripper, and before long, both Bill and Ted’s already impoverished sense of decorum was sloughing off in chunks. The conversation turned to references of bitches, and how many firearms they each owned. Decency was the next layer to dissolve, as they started flinging the word nigger around in a casual manner that seemed meant to suggest how outrageously irreverent and real they both were, but which in reality, was just depressing. Also, as with numerous other alpha squares I’ve met, they both openly reviled the Beatles with a curious vehemence, (meanwhile, Apple Bottom Jeans rates as the stuff of battle cries and epitaphs).

Following our feast of uncooked sea life, everyone (but me) decided to cap things off with a celebratory club crawl through Lisbon. I don’t do clubs. To me, the world is like a veritable rock garden full of beautiful stones unturned, whereas nightclubs are the swamp-end of that; moist little dens of anti-mystery where the arrested and incurious can go to noisily experiment in unhygienia together. Surrounding myself with Marley-loving frat boys swilling from Solos and middle-aged I-REALLY-LIKE-MYSELF! type divorcees breaching the tensile strength of their compression undergarments as they try to dance away their fears of dying alone and unnoticed to alleged music — aka, a series of prefab loops downloaded and mixed on a smartphone earlier that day by some underemployed gimper with experimental facial hair whilst hogging the WiFi at his local cafe’ — just isn’t my thing.

And yet, I relented…

Maybe it was the cosmic nature of bumping into someone we knew on the other side of the planet, combined with the irritating rebukes from the Missus about how cloistered I was becoming that compelled me to act so goddamn agreeable. That, and the fact that Bill paid the bill. Whatever it was, I was in Good Sport mode. (Don’t ever let anyone guilt you into good sport mode.)

We trekked the mile or so of cobblestone to Lisbon’s main drag through an incipient rainstorm, hitting two ratty little clubs in all. I drew the line at two, refusing the extra-absurd rockabilly club out of hand; doog-clickity-doog slap bass and slimy black pompadours in Portugal? Fuck that!

The second and last club is where things went from ok to wretched, starting with my almost losing a shoe to the tacky floor surrounding the bar area. The staff and patrons were decently friendly, including a short, moon-faced Dane who struck up a conversation with me while we both waited for the WC. She asked me what I was doing there. I thought by this she was referring to how such a fetid shit-pit was so easily beneath a man of my perceptible stock, until she cheerily clarified that what she’d actually meant was, what was I doing in Lisbon?…

I was there at the invite of my wife, on a small guided tour of coastal Portugal. The general mission of the tour was supposed to be sensory in nature, but with a particular emphasis on scent. Having grown up with a blind parent, maximizing all five senses has always been a personal injunction, and since olfaction is the one sense that’d remained mostly neglected throughout my exploits, I was at least intrigued by the premise. Still, I had my misgivings, especially as the prevalent demographic of the group was somewhere between 50 and 70, affluent, overweight and under-fucked. Not exactly my tribe.

The second afternoon in Lisbon was hosted by a preeminent perfumer from London, a slithery queen who treated us to high tea and spoke with an affected lilt that was one part TE Lawrence and two parts Bond villain. He was clearly something of a rock star in the world of haute fragrance, as evidenced by the Eucharistic reception from the rest of the group. As an outsider, the fawning left me feeling both bemused and a tad queasy. Nevertheless, I actually learned some very interesting things about agarwood and vetiver, and his presentation was perfectly entertaining. Most of all, I admired his jingoist-tinged Olde World sensibilities when it came to the packaging of his perfumes. “The box alone is hand-assembled, in England, by the English, each one requiring at least 40 minutes to construct,” he hissssed, furling and unfurling his hands all about the box. Dwayne, the industrialist visiting with his wife from Houston, openly spluttered, counting up the beans in his head and making exaggerated fart faces over such ephemeral concerns.

Dwayne was a classic study of the kind of man who’d misspent his life trying to learn what to do in order to be more like people who were better than him. His heart, what little there was, just wasn’t in it. I’d’ve loved to have seen Dwayne after two or three glasses of Absinthe…

Speaking of — I only indulged because Ted, who purchased both rounds, seemed increasingly like a soul alone in the wilderness, his face melting with quiet despair like some hangdog motherless child. In the shitty half-light of the club, Ted looked increasingly to me like a cross between an out-of-shape Mickey Spillane and a poor man’s Jackie Gleason. I’ve a weakness for tortured souls, and in that moment, the absinthe seemed to serve as some kind of cheap bonding agent. What can I say — I’m as soft-headed as I am softhearted: if I sense someone likes me and they express it with any kind of gesture, it’s just real hard for me to turn it down. If you liked me, and you expressed it by placing a dried turd in my pocket, or by gifting me a Best of Foreigner album, I’d accept either token most graciously. As such, I agreed to the first round. Ted was instantly elated, frantically plying me about how this was the real shit — “not that cartoon version you get back in the States!” I briefly inspected the green-tinged syrup before gulping it back with ombibulous caprice. Wincing, I exhaled the fumes and feigned some kind of gratitude; Gack! Fuck your mother!

I wanted nothing to do with round two, and when it appeared before me a few minutes later, I let my irritation be known by animatedly deferring, trying to fob it off on Bill or my wife who both looked upon it like a glass of barium. Ted’s face started melting again…okay okay, fine. I did the math, considering my body weight and adding up the not-quite-three Super Bocks over a three hour period, and decided, most unwisely, I could take it.

Mickey_Spillaneʰᵉʸ, ᶫᵉᵗ’ˢ ᵈʳᶦᶰᵏ ᴬᵇˢᶦᶰᵗʰᵉ ᵃᶰᵈ ᵈᵃᶰᶜᵉ ᶫᶦᵏᵉ ᵃˢˢʰᵒᶫᵉˢ ᵃᶰᵈ ˢᵗᵘᶠᶠ⋅⋅⋅

I even reasoned to my fool-ass-self that self-medication in that moment probably wasn’t such a terrible idea. After all, sitting there watching Mickey Spillane and the other two fling their limbs randomly about to Miami bass at brain-scrambling volumes was making me feel vaguely unwell. If you’re a sensitive person, as I am, sobriety in that kind of environment can seem more like a liability to your health than swanning down a drum of Everclear on an empty stomach.

And so it was, that I arrived in the Czech Republic, rumpled and dissipated with my expensive dinner from the evening prior scattered across two paper sacks. I’m still undecided if it was the straight absinthe, or a combination of absinthe and the slosh-gut induced by chugging down five glasses of Lisboan tap water in a bid to rehydrate that morning. I know enough to avoid drinking tap water in unfamiliar cities, but after waking up with absinthe mouth — a kind of intense oral carpet burn — I couldn’t get enough of the shit. My friendly and sincerest advice to anyone who isn’t me: don’t do what I did. You’ll be alright.

With great luck, that won’t end up my epitaph.



The most fundamental criteria for any away game should be that it’s exploratory in nature. I don’t care about lying on the beach eating chips ‘n’ dips all day or watching back-to-back episodes of Gator Boys after the obligatory hotel screw on some puffy jacquard duvet. Duke Ellington once said that vacations are for miserable people looking to escape that which makes them miserable — and I take my miseries like daily vitamins. The difference with travel should be that you’re venturing out to landscapes unfamiliar in search of texture and color and shapes; things which will subsequently inform and even transform things about you, from your very ideas about life to the way you prepare your eggs.

Having said all that, I’m still too tired to detect any such phenomena in myself from my recent maiden European voyage (Prague by way of Lisbon). Yeah, I know — at 36, the Lonely Planet mavens would write me off as a tragically under-traveled slob; but I’ve never been a passport fetishist, nor do I have an obsession with all-things-European. Indeed, I’ve been working my way though the vestiges of the American landscape over the last several years, trying like hell to get to it all before the whole territory’s transformed into one giant mixed-use development. Besides, when it comes to culture, I’m decently internationale — miles more so than any of the travel snobs I know. As evidence, whenever I part with anything from any one of my book, record or film collections online, nearly every item ends up going to some disparate corner of the planet, from Australasia to Scandinavia; from South Africa to Oceania (in fact, rarely the US). The point I’m trying to illustrate is that it’s possible to be worldly without the need to breathe in other people’s effluvium for eight hours at a go.


I’m an ardent adherent to the idea that adventure is less about the destination and more about the journey. One glaring exception to this rule is air travel. Flying compresses and depresses me. I’ve been trying to build up my resistance with long continental flights to far-flung burgs like Anchorage. Still, though, think about it: Have you ever reflected fondly upon a favorite flight? In coach? For eight hours??


The airport in Madrid was my first taste of Europe on the ground. First impression: High on style, low on functionality. The Madrid Barajas Airport is just too insanely beautiful to be the place where Airport personnel report to work everyday. In fact, it barely feels like an airport. This is a bad thing. To begin with, you disembark the plane and begin an interminable zig-zag up the jetway before at long last emerging at the arrival gate, at which point you follow-the-herd, as the paucity of signage leaves one without any clues as to where to proceed to a connecting flight or baggage claim. Gotta take a leak? Sorry, slob — hopefully the sense of mystery which envelopes you as you wonder aloud where they’ve hidden all the privies (note: WC/Debussy) will distract from all those bladder pangs. Need a porter? Sorry, also — you will slog and slog and slog, while the only signs you’ll spot are those occasional green & white EXIT signs depicting that DRI-looking stick figure which seems not to suggest an EXIT, but rather scrambling for your motherfucking life. Every time I saw that little guy, he managed to induce in me a vague sense of urgency. It didn’t help that I was gradually resigning myself to the fact that we would never make our connecting flight in time. It took some forty minutes before we finally arrived at the departure terminals, after jog-walking for over ten, clearing customs and navigating the excessively farcical airport security theater, (my black leather boots were okay to keep on, but not the strappy goddess sandals the woman behind me was wearing), and then traversing the giant duty-free mall strategically sandwiched between customs and the departure gates. With an eight hour layover until the next flight to Lisbon, we spent our food vouchers on below-average coffee slung by passive-aggressive baristas, good beer and some curious-looking sandwiches. Eight hours is a long-ass time to kill, and it does not die easy…not even in the most beautiful airport in the world.


We arrived at the Hotel Mondial in downtown Lisbon later that evening, an old, slightly pricey resort on the Rua Palma, just a few blocks up from the bay. The Mondial’s lobby is dazzling enough to impress even the most jet-lagged and jaded soul, replete as it is with smiling staff running around in cummerbunds and bow ties. This somewhat belies the humble nature of the guest rooms, the carpet in which was more like thin wool batting stretched taut over what felt and sounded like starlight mints trapped beneath. Likewise, the bathroom was more like a found object sculpture depicting frustration, starting with the first third of the toilet installed under the first third of the sink, followed by the bathtub installed upon a three foot riser, requiring one to launch one’s carcass up into it. Bursitis of the hip? Enjoy your sponge bath, turkey. Further comedic relief was provided by the absence of mixer valves in the shower, making for wavering extremes in water temperature, punctuated by the occasional scalding blast, which truly took a bite.

There was some good stuff, though: the central location with its view of the Rua Palma, chock as it was with restive natives preparing for their anti-Troika demonstrations the following evening; the mattresses, which were perfectly firm — the best I’ve ever slept in outside of my own; the mostly young female staff, who exuded an earthy pleasantness as opposed to the phony hyper-politeness you get here in the States; the scrambled eggs…I had dreams about them.

That first night in town, our cicerone bussed us over to a restaurant in the older part of Lisbon. It was a large, grotto-like space, ornately decorated throughout with a high barrel ceiling and a stage. We were seated at a long table and served one of those five course meals where each plate features a diminutive pillar of food, randomly strewn with sprigs of this ‘n’ that, and strafed by a single squiggle of sauce. Following this pretentious and unsatisfying little meal, we were treated to a Fado show. In case you don’t know, Fado is a traditional Portuguese music, which I found rather hokey. The jet lag didn’t help things. The performance seemed to go on and on and on, and I just wanted them to stop. All I could think about was that lovely mattress I wanted to get back to where I might die in my sleep. The most entertaining thing for me the whole evening was the crazed death ray one of the guitarists kept trained on some little shithead kid in the audience who kept playing video games on his Ipad with the volume cranked throughout the entire performance.

The second day was better, with a trip out to wine country, where we toured the giant mahogany casks of Portugal’s oldest vineyard, home to thousands of gallons of the rather nasty Muscatel — a treacly sort of fortified wine that serves as the centerpiece to Portugal’s vintner heritage. I got the sense that the Portuguese were even lighter lightweights than myself, given their propensity for such craziness as adding 7-Up to their Super Bocks and cutting twenty year-old wine with Coca-Cola.

Ponte25AbrilBridgeCheck it out: In Lisbon, you get your wine country, the Mediterranean climate and even a Bay Bridge — all without the Californians! Unbeatable. I wonder what the suicide rate is compared with the one in San Francisco?

The two biggest things going on in Portugal are cork and tiles. They cannot and will not shut up about their goddamned cork and tiles. Christ! Enough already!!!

…I, of course, only kid: The tiled walls and houses all throughout Portugal left cricks in my neck as I craned around to glimpse as many of them as possible as we zipped past in the bus. Everyone gets beautiful tiles in Lisbon — doesn’t matter if you’re a wealthy club owner like John Malkovich, or subsisting in the Terras do Lelo slums. Call it the banality of beauty. As far as cork goes, one of the local merchants mentioned something to me about some ongoing research to develop transparent cork, which I still can’t get my mind around. I hope he wasn’t bullshitting me.

I tore ass around a few castles, the crumbling botanical gardens and one or two splendiferous old palaces, but by day five, all the threadbare opulence was beginning to tire me. You seen one ruin, you’ve pretty much seen ’em all. There was that, and the growing sense that the trip was devolving into a sort-of wealth transfer, as it seemed to me like the ladies in the group were being subtly funneled from one stop to the next in order to have their anemic US dollars swiftly Hoovered up with a too-keen obrigato. Not that I condemn the Lisboans or anyone else for hustling, I just got bored of watching it. For my part, I bought a blanket, two pads of paper, a bar of shaving soap and a pencil — shit you can really use, and all made in Portugal, thank you.

The evenings in Lisbon were free, and my woman and I wandered the streets together, marveling at the uncanny number of shoe stores throughout the city. We were warned away from the *bad parts* of town, but I unwittingly wandered into them a few times without incident, save for a bemused look or two. Compared to the asphalt killing fields (with corresponding Murder Maps) that comprise the bad parts of most American metros, a dangerous street in Lisbon might consist of a guy in a black t-shirt, snarling to himself. PG-13 stuff at worst.

Most nights we ordered beer from one of the various arcades near the bay — and that’s exactly how I ordered them: a glass of beer, like we were on the set of a Hollywood film in 1947. And just like in those old films, without hesitation, the waiter would whisk away to procure a perfectly crisp Blonde or Bock. Try it out. It’s pretty terrific.

Overall, the city of Lisbon, it’s people, and the surrounding areas are handsome and melancholic, which is my kinda stuff. It’s got poetry. One fear is that the ongoing austerity measures imposed by the IMF on the people of Portugal will continue to negatively impact the area. Even the bucolic coastal areas of Cascais looked quite neglected (at least compared to how they looked in 1971’s The Last Run with George C. Scott). Many of the urban areas appeared blighted and drenched in Krylon. Outside of the numerous anti-Troika messages, graffiti in Lisbon looks the same as it does everywhere in the world, and covers nearly every vertical surface, including, most tragically, some of those tiled walls and even a few ancient stone ramparts. One saving grace is that the city was constructed with certain local materials and in such a way as to weather and rundown much more beautifully than any American strip mall or condo tower ever will.

Lisboan hellraisers seem to have it pretty plush. The prisons in Lisbon are quite stately, at least on the outside. Sadly, the one pictured at the top of this post is slated to become a condominium once the Portuguese economy gets back on its hind legs. Who knows when that’ll be…thanks IMF!