Monday, November 12, 2018

Italy in 10 Days -- Hitchhiking

After we leave Rome, Daniel and I start hitchhiking. His theory:

It's a complex game.

First – logistics. You have to choose the road (motorway is faster, but more problematic; on local road it's easier to catch a ride, but it won't be that far) and place (you need to be visible, it's better if there is space to stop a car, and if cars don't go too fast in this particular place; bus stop after curve is great, but not too close to the curve).

Second – good first impression. The driver will see you for several seconds and you want to convince him you're a good person he wants to take. It doesn't matter how long you wait, if you're stressed or tired, you put it all aside and play a nice, chilled, positive person (which you immediately become right after someone stops).

Third thing – someone took you for a ride, then what? I treat it like an exchange – driver offers me transportation from A to B, plus I watch him and wonder what kind of person he is, how to talk to him, how to act (“be who they want you to be”, a game I play often, and for being a good player I get rewards in many places). What I give him is positive feelings, a smile, sometimes a story or an interesting thought. And company, of course.

All of this is especially interesting because in everyday life you don't meet real strangers. You meet your friends, their friends, but they aren't random, because you choose your friends and they choose theirs, so in fact people you meet come to you through a kind of a filter (hope you understand what I mean). And now you not only meet a stranger, you also sit in his car and try to follow his rules. I guess it helps to develop empathy / emotional intelligence / intuition.

Fourth thing – I say it's easy to tell everything about yourself to a person you just met and will probably never see again. You meet this kind of people not only in bars, but also during hitchhiking. One thing is you rather want to be subtle, because you don’t know the guy, but if it's this kind of person, when you feel kind of a connection, you can tell them anything you want and he will not call you three years later saying what he thinks about you. It's like talking with yourself in my opinion.

And the last thing is where they leave you. Sometimes you're left on the crossing in the middle of nowhere, with nobody in sight, and when the car goes his way it's only you and silence, and I feel absolutely free in those situations. I really like this feeling, being on the road, you know.

So I think that's it.

And when I talk to Daniel most of the time that we are together, it feels a little this way -- like I am talking to a stranger, but in a lot of ways much more than talking to a random stranger like with the hitchhiking, I feel like I am talking to myself. 

Because I'm interested in really understanding the people I meet, as much as they want to be understood, I was interested to try out hitchhiking with him. We ended up choosing to go north instead because he had to make an international flight leaving out of France in about 6 days. Without really having planned it beforehand, we ended up traveling together for a week. First the hitchhiking, not very far just from Rome to Civitavecchia (if you want to look it up on a map. Worth seeing maybe, and apparently a frequent cruise stop or origin. We then, at the advice of the last person we met with, took a train up to Follonica, which is a nice beach resort town with only Italian tourists and pretty cheap. Worth a visit too if you're spending like a month in Italy. 

I've written a ton more about Daniel and his life philosophies and how I was surprised by some of his observations to realize the extent of my irrational thinking on certain topics. But maybe better to get it from the source, his new blog. Also, I'll probably get deeper into it in the second book. It's just hard to explain part of it without explaining all of it, but a quick thing to think about is his observation -- most people try to buy their life with money. But the best things in life you don’t get like chocolate from the box that you buy. You get them like chasing after the puffy seed of the dandelion and you never have a guarantee that you’ll get it. You don’t buy your life. 

In hitchhiking (in which you you're not trying to travel by buying the comfort and illusion of independence from other people) and in so many ways in which we interacted with others and made our way in the world, I kept thinking about how much I try to buy my life and otherwise try to shield myself from dealing with or relying on other people in ways that are obvious, like the same way that it is obvious that you rely on people when you're asking them for a ride. I became aware of this and at least a half dozen other little self deceptions by hanging out with him. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mardi Gras, South Africa in January? and Coachella 1st weekend

Just for people's planning purposes, I'm pretty sure I'll be at Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year, if you've ever wanted to go and wanted an excuse.

Also, I already have tix for Coachella's first weekend. Again, if you're going to be there anyway, I'd love to meet up, or maybe you've been interested in checking it out before but this might help you plan.

I'm also in the early stages of thinking about going to South Africa in late January and early February.

By the way, everyone that I have met, thank you so much for your hospitality and your friendship. I've loved meeting every single one of you and count you all my friends. Truly, let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you. And I hope to meet many more of you. Again, even if you have emailed me before, if you'd like me to try to swing to your area of the world, let me know.

Thanks all!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Italy in 10 efficient days -- Rome (2-3 days)

True to my travelogue style, I'm going to give advice about what to do while you're in Italy, but I myself didn't follow this plan.

So I'll also tell you what actually happened.

Day 1: The first day I was in Italy I had no plans, so I just went to the National Roman Museum, which is right next to the Rome Termini station. It has a ton of ancient Roman artifacts, perhaps most famously the discus thrower. Otherwise, if you're planning on visiting the Vatican museums even a little bit and you're a little on a tight schedule, this museum is an easy miss. You can also get entry into the related museum (you can buy entry to one for 10 Euro and both for 12) to the old Roman bath ruins that are also right there by the train station. But you can also see basically some Roman bath ruins by going into the Basilica S.Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, which is a part of the Roman bath building converted to a church by Mihelangelo. I checked into my hotel at around 3:00 pm and thought about just staying there (long flight and not a lot of sleep), but because I'm so hardcore about sleep schedules when traveling, 

I forced myself to uber over to some other second tier place. Ubers are good if you can't find a taxi stand (you don't really hail taxies, you have to find a taxi stand), although they are all black car so more expensive than American uber. Second tier activities, because I was going to be in Rome again in a week with another sociopath friend and I knew she would want to do all the first tier stuff with me. So I went to something that seemed safely second tier (although I ended up going again with socio friend just for a quick look), El Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. This one has a couple Berninis and a few Carravagios and it is a nice look into a Palazzo while also combining some important pieces of art. Heads up, there aren't really any big state run museums that have all the good art, but rather they all come from private collections and mostly have stayed in those collections, even if they're available for viewing by the general public, so don't expect something like the Louvre with a consolidated collection in Rome. But maybe the best thing about this Doria Pamphilij place is that the audio guide is narrated by one of the heirs to this family fortune/collection, and his little remembrances of his family are often hilarious glimpses into wealthy old money Italian families. I also saw the Palazzo Venezia, which is very missable unless you're into Mussolini locations, bu it was a good example of what the audio guide narrator at Doria Pamphilij said -- that in Rennaissance onward Roman society, it wasn't enough for a family to have money -- it had to have things. And that's what the Palazzo Venezia looks like, just room upon room of very precious (I'm sure), uninteresting things. I also took the elevator to the top of the Altare della Patria, which people say is the best view of Rome because you can't see the Altare della Patria in the horizon. ;) 

Day 2: I meet new friend Daniel who is maybe 7-ish on socio scale? He says he is on the more hyper rational side of things. We had emailed about hitchhiking down to Naples (he has a whole theory behind it, maybe he'll let me publish it) and had talked about leaving that day, but he said he'd rather spend one more day in Rome, so we just hung out. We met at the Colosseum, he looked at my shoes and was like, looks like you can walk around for 10 or 11 hours. Not quite, but a lot that way. We walked all over the place. They say walking is the best way to see Rome, and it is probably true, but also heads up that you need some good shoes for the rough cobblestone streets, sidewalks, and just all of the very hard surfaces you'll be on. We walked first to a park on the other side of the river that is high and has a good view and then on to St. Peter's, which is a masterpiece of architecture and the cleanest older church I have seen. It really looked like it could have been built in the last decade, it was so clean. Of course Michelangelo's Pieta is there in bulletproof glass, as well as a bunch of dead popes. No cost to go in, but a long wait for security with a lot of people from cultures who are not used to queuing. You can climb to the top of the sexy ass Michelangelo dome and should because it's sexy as hell. After, we hung out in the Vatican-y sort of area around the river and just wandering until I took a cab back to my hotel, which luckily had vacancy. I lost the first of my personal items there -- a jacket. I had packed light because of the hitchhiking plans, just a normal sized backpack, and I ended up losing basically half of my clothes on this trip. Tsk tsk.

Things I did later in Rome and that are worthwhile is a tour of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican. I did the Pristine Sistine, because I had such a good experience seeing Stonehenge early, but even before it allegedly opened it was packed. Maybe still a good idea if it's high season? And the Vatican museums seemed complicated to me, so it was nice to just burn there through with a guide explaining things. I also did a Colosseum and Roman Forum tour because I figured otherwise I wouldn't know what was going on in there. That was also probably a good idea because the ruins are so partial it's not clear what is what.

Finally, I went to the Borghese Gallery. Heads up, the way they do it is let a group in for two hour slots. Two hours is more than enough time to see everything, so no stress, even if I could have stayed longer. But! As is the case at a lot of places, what ends up happening is that middlemen buy up all the availability and so reservations have to be made at least a week in advance for your time slot or you can try to buy from these third party resellers. I ended up staying a day longer than I had planned. Because I stayed longer, I also did a Walks of Rome tour of the catacombs, which was also interesting, especially sort of piecing together the history of Rome with the history and spread of Christianity. If you're short on time and/or money but want a flavor of old Christianity and bones, another good option is just to see the Capuchin Crypt yourself, which is easily accessible within the city limit. It was very not crowded when I went and also has its own Caravaggio.

Also sort of must see is Bellini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa, which is just in a small church and is free to see but the hours are sort of particular. I went at least once when it was closed and then again when it was closing and sort of sketchy to see it after a Missa.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Holiday Midwest, Chicago, Milwaukee, maybe Michigan and Ohio

Hey friends, I think I'm going to try to be in Milwaukee, Chicago, and maybe other places in Michigan and Ohio during the holiday week between Christmas and New Years and in the first week of January. Let me know if you would like to meet up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Dachau and the problem of "evil"

I've spent a total of like 14 hours in the Copenhagen airport in the last 24 hours with delayed and then cancelled flights, but I wanted to write some quick thoughts about Dachau and evil while I wait for yet another European connecting flight before going home. I'll write more about the trip later.

Dachau is an interesting example of what people would call "evil". Dachau is a city in Bavaria and Dachau the prison and then concentration camp was the first of its kind and often used as a model for the construction of others. It began in the 1930s to house primarily all of the political prisoners that were occurring as Nazism had gained control over the German government and had gotten permission to protect the fatherland by eliminating or isolating potential threats. Interestingly, when they first obtained this permission through what was mostly still a legit democratically elected government, the pretense they gave for the need for such power was to protect their political rivals from the harm that might happen to the political rivals. In other words, they argued that their political rivals were so endangered by the political fury the Nazis themselves had worked so hard to foment via well placed propaganda preying upon the banal fears to which empaths in particular are susceptible. I sort of vaguely remember this being one of the given purposes for the establishment of Jewish ghettos as well -- that they were so hated that they needed to be separated for their own protection.

I went there with my German friend, which was interesting for me not so much because of who she is (sociopathic identifying, although that was also a little hilarious to sort of see the different ways she approached things than a more neurotypical person might), but because of how I reacted to her presence. I still have very low maybe non-existent affective empathy even post therapy, but one thing that I have always done particularly at the height of my manipulative ways is to be very aware of my audience and adjust my conversation and behavior to please. I still do this. I don't think it's bad, it's just being responsive to the context in which you find yourself, and the people around you are also part of that context. What I mean is that because she was German, I thought much more of the German perspective of what it would be like to live in Dachau -- a city that is still thriving but probably for a lot of the world will always be associated with the camp. Or what it might be like to just generally be German, especially a young German and be both so far removed from any connection to these events, but still inextricably entangled in them. And she had some very interesting thoughts about how the connection continues to affect the German sense of their national identity, like maybe they are less likely to be waving German flags in foreign places or making other overt shows of national pride, particularly while abroad.

So I found myself chatting with her about how the Germans have done a good job accepting responsibility for the things that their nation had done. They do and continue to do reparations, they have all of these memorial sites that are well attended and well maintained, and my German friend told me that the vast majority of her history lessons focused on WWII and with this idea of trying not to repeat past mistakes.

I also found myself saying things like despite the sheer magnitude of this particular path of human cruelty, the German example is not so singular. I had just been to Russia and seen a gulag, spoke at length with a local whose grandfather disappeared into a gulag long ago for the smallest of jokes about Stalin, and saw the affect that such a repressive regime still had. I had just spoken with new polish friend about some of the Russian slaughters of polish political prisoners. I also mentioned to new German friend that when I was in Russia and told people that I was visiting gulags that the U.S. has its own gulags -- the private prisons and terrible legal system that imprisons such a large proportion of its population, particularly its traditionally disadvantaged classes of people. I told her about how there has long been a Russian tu quoque response to American complaints about Russian civil rights violations -- "And you are lynching Negroes".

It was so easy to come up with examples of evil, not just of other nations both historical and contemporary, but personal examples and examples of very common brands of human cruelty -- the failure of common people to understand their fellows as being dynamic and capable of redemption, no matter what past misdeeds, the modern day stoning of public shaming done mostly via social media, the tribalism that has led to polarization and justification for violence and other "ends justify the minds" reasoning among such a broad swath of the population to a level I wouldn't have thought possible ten years ago.

The Germans have done a good job acknowledging the problem of evil, the fact that they as a nation fell susceptible to it generations ago, and trying to learn what this means for not just their own humanity and the dual good/bad that we all share, but for what it means when people do "bad" things to them. Do we judge as hypocrites? Do we falsely set ourselves up as being  beyond reproach?

Evil is not just banal, as Hannah Arendt famously argued, it is ubiquitous and we participate in it in ways small and big every day. When we can do as good of a job as the Germans do about acknowledging this and trying to learn from it and do better, I think the world would be such a better place.

Pictured, gate with the famous motto and lie that work will make free, crematorium, room marked showers that leads to a functioning gas chamber (although apparently never used), and "shower" head designed to dispense zylkon b for the efficient murder of people that were considered by their murders to themselves be "evil" and as such worth of such treatment.

Ok, my plane is boarding! Please forgive any typos or convoluted writing.
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