Sunday, March 20, 2016

Czech Your Pillage: Central Europe under Siege

Once burned, twice shy.  Twenty times burned, Central Europe.  Between Ottomans, Swedes, Napoleon, Hapsburgs, non-Nazi Germans, Nazi Germans, and Communists, Central Europe has the habit of being burned to the ground by most any marauder.

To discourage this cycle of destruction, medieval city planners turned to a new model: find a hill, build a castle on it, and keep your important stuff in the castle.

We prepare to storm the castle.

Aside from walls, which came standard, the particular defense mechanisms varied from castle to castle.  In Cesky Krumlov, the royals filled the moat with bears.  (Incidentally, I have an idea for a Revenant sequel.)  In Prague, castle dwellers pushed people out of windows, an approach which led to the 1618 Defenestration of Prague, my new favorite historical event.  In Salzburg, the castle had a giant mechanical organ which could blast only one chord and was presumably used to annoy invaders or summon Von Trapps.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Wrestling with Masculinity

When it comes to masculinity, America has feelings. We males are supposed to be aggressive yet easygoing, equally adept with a slap on the back or a punch to the kidney. We should like large quantities of meat, as well as drinks that double as drain cleaner. We must be hairy of head and voluminous of bicep. American culture communicates these requirements in many ways—Hollywood, men’s magazines, gym teachers—but perhaps no vehicle is more effective than that hallmark of pay-per-view: pro wrestling.

This summer, that I might finally attain masculinity, I attended my first pro wrestling event, “The Best in the World” hosted by Ring of Honor. As I understand it, ROH is the Off-Broadway of the professional wrestling scene. It’s for those who find the WWE “too commercial” and desire more artistic integrity in how men in speedos fake-punch each other.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cambodia: Hankering for an Angkoring

Tourism in Cambodia falls into two categories: Angkor Wat and death. That we may end on an up-note, let’s begin with the latter.

But first, some historical context:

I. Apocalypse Then

Cambodia is a country that’s still trying to reconcile itself with the horrors of its past. I don’t mean the 2001 film Tomb Raider, though that does require a great deal of reconciliation, but rather the Khmer Rouge.

Founded in 1968, the Khmer Rouge was a group of Cambodian communists. Under the leadership of schoolteacher-turned-psychopath Pol Pot, the group blossomed, bludgeoned, and conquered Cambodia by 1975. (To put this in perspective, I’ve been working on The Judgment of Quintus for 8 years. Pol Pot took over a country in 7.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We'll Always Have Disneyland Paris

Since 1945, American culture has functioned less as friendly emissary than zombie horde. Marauding across continents, it devours brains, assimilates everything in its path, and leaves behind only ruin and childhood obesity. But as this onslaught spreads throughout Europe, one nation has boldly drawn its Maginot line in the sand. I refer, of course, to France.

Being an expert on France (I’ve seen Scarlet Pimpernel and Les Mis), I can speak authoritatively of its culture. Unlike America and its melting pot, France defines a fixed version of Frenchness which its government encourages everyone to upkeep. Roaming outside the bounds of this Frenchness is frowned upon, and succumbing to any aspect of American culture is expressly forbidden.

To better understand the struggle between American and French cultures, we need not look further than Marne-la-Vallée, a sleepy hamlet just 20 miles east of Paris. You may not know Marne-la-Vallée by name, but perhaps you’ve heard of a local business it contains: Euro Disney.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Iceland: Hut, Hut, Hike!

America and Iceland define “intermediate” in decidedly different ways.  Here, when applied to a physical activity, “intermediate” suggests you may need to stand up.  There, it means “in all likelihood, you’ll die.”  So should you visit Iceland and go on an “intermediate hike,” as Maggie and I so unsuspectingly did, I offer you this guide that you might learn from our mistakes and perhaps live to tell the tale.

Pro Tip 1: Pick an honest guide.  To determine if a guide is honest, refer to their suggested packing list, and identify how many times the word “waterproof” appears.  For Iceland Mountain Guides, it was five, which put them just on the verge of veracity.  (Sun protection, on the other hand, was “optional.”  And highly optimistic.)  Once you have obtained your hiking attire, test it out by putting it on and throwing yourself into a swimming pool.  This simulates the experience that Icelanders call “going outside.”