29 May 2007

written last night

After I got back from Aachen, I went to the train station in search of a small suitcase on wheels to accommodate my recent book acquisitions. For the price of the small suitcase, I could have sent home only one envelope. So, I will become considerably stronger while lugging around what is effectively a portable library, very strong in museology and art history, but not without some anthropology and European fiction. The other day at the bookstore in the train station, I got Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka, who is a hysterically funny Ukrainian-British writer. Her style is somewhat similar to Johnathan Safran-Foer's in Everything is Illuminated, although this is funny the whole way through, whereas Safran-Foer has some melancholy. Last summer, a recommendation from the Irish bookseller at The Almost Corner Bookshop in Rome led me to Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and Two Caravans actually refers to the first at one point in the plot, so I'm happy to have found this. I love her writing because she uses English so well, and to her advantage. At times, I found myself laughing out loud, which is healthy and I can't remember the last time I read a novel for pleasure like this -- probably last summer. In Paris, I bought a bilingual edition of Pasolini's Novelle Romane (Roman Novels) which will help me with French and Italian at the same time. The prices for used books in Paris were insanely low even with the unfavorable Euro, and it made me feel apart of the bursting-at-the-seams intellectualism of the Latin Quarter.

Besides various German junk food/fast food of which I am fond, there is also German television. Right now, there is this show on about squid reproduction, which is fascinating even though I can't understand it, because I find squid to be kind of gross yet endlessly interesting. They are not something I enjoy eating, so I think that's kind of why I'm interested in them (aggiungi anche questi alle cozze, Bill). This morning, as I was getting ready to go, there was this show called Stein Zeit: Das Experiment. I think I saw the companion series meant for children, called Die ,,Steinzeit"-Kinder, and it features people somewhere in Bavaria recreating the Stone Age. This guy, without talking, cooked a rabbit, carrots, and potatoes over red-hot stones in a small pit, and then cut the rabbit apart using a piece of flint. It looked really good and he seemed pleased with himself.

The Museum Ludwig was open today because of the holiday, and it was nice, although my brain is exhausted. I'll go back tomorrow morning as planned to relook at some of the High Modern works and then go look at the Pop Art collection. It seems that they have representative works from all of the right people, from all of the right movements.

One general discovery of an artist this trip has been Nicholas de Stäel, who I wasn't aware of before seeing a fantastic non-objective piece in the Centre Pompidou. The Museum Ludwig has a interesting little objective still life, and I've decided I really like his work. The photography exhibit at the Museum Ludwig was quite good, featuring a good mix of photographers, and presenting an almost perfect visual comparison of Bernd and Hilla Becher's typologies with Andreas Gursky, especially including the fantastic Montparnasse. In painting, there were some excellent Max Ernst paintings, and I liked what I saw, which was generally a specific type of surrealism -- Ernst and his friends, including Picabia, another artist I'm appreciating more this trip. My favorites though were an exceptional group of Russian suprematism, with Rodchenko well represented in painting, sculpture and photography. In another area, there were some great Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy photos, which in some ways I think are complimentary to suprematism. Further connections to the Centre Pompidou, as there I saw again (it was a huge surprise and I'm so happy I got to see it again) the film Moholy-Nagy made of his perpetual motion/light reflection machine thing. I took 1 minute of the film with my digital camera, and one of these days I can post it here via google video. The actual perpetual motion/light reflection machine thing is at the Bauhaus-archiv in Berlin, and so I didn't think I'd see the video again until I got back there.

The weather is totally dreary, it's around 55°F/13°C and raining a lot, which does not promote a good mood. There were lots of people out in the streets today, but most of the stores were closed so everyone was window shopping. The galleries were open, and I walked into one to get out of the rain, where I came across tons of soggy Scouts hanging their wet outerwear over an escalator railing! There were a lot of Scouts in transit today whose day was ruined by the crappy weather. Despite the cold weather, I was roasting most of the day due to my 100% nylon rainjacket, which also makes me fit in with German fashion, because today everyone was wearing walking shoes like mine and nylon jackets like mine. Usually when travelling I am most often taken for German, and it is rather obvious why, although this also means that people assume I also speak German. This afternoon, while trying to make the most efficient exit from Aachen, I had issues pronouncing Hauptbanhof, which means train station, so the very nice gentleman repeated it for me.

I have yet to be able to get beyond the rear of the cathedral, because I always seem to walk in during a service and there are sextons in red and black robes stopping people from moving towards the front. It's a very impressive building, because it's actually a lot longer than it seems from the outside. Evidently, it was only completed in the 1880s, but it's definitely quite Gothic. If the cathedral in Köln is Gothic, then the cathedral in Aachen is a triumph of Romanesque exuberance. I must confess, it was exactly what I pictured from Janson's History of Art. The mosaics in there were great, and I think in the Treasury Museum I saw some mention or comparison to San Vitale in Ravenna. I went into the Treasury Museum because it was raining and there wasn't much else to do because everything else was closed. Normally I find Treasury Museums to be really boring, and this one was no exception, but I did see Charlemagne's right forearm and the rope used to scourge Jesus, His belt, and Mary's belt. There was also a collection of broken locks and keys, which has something to do with a connection between the church and city of Aachen, which I didn't understand. Kings from all over Europe sent things to Aachen, I assume to promote their own legitimacy, and so there was an interesting collection of things from farther east as well. The German Catholics appear to still be reveling in the fact that il Papa Ratzinger is pope, and this region is also the objective of pilgrimages from all over Europe, including a lot of Spaniards right now it seems.

Tomorrow, the Römanisches-Germanisches Museum, the Ludwig Museum again, and then off to the Köln-Bonn Flughaven to go down to Munich.

When I'm in large cities, like Paris or New York, I always find it hard to tell if people are really happy, which leads me to think they're not. Today, both here and in Aachen, people were smiling, laughing, and greeting each other in the streets, which makes me think that they are in fact happy, and this is a good thing.

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