Trans-Danubia Notebook II: The Tour Guide. To arrive at the gates of Sümeg-vár, you must first climb the hill on which it stands, much like the Turkish hordes who attacked (unsuccessfully) in the 16th century. Then, in order to look around inside the castle walls, you have to get past József Csizmazia, a down-at-the-heels gentleman who hustles guided tours for a living.
The Turks had it easy.
József's English was learned by rote, with little or no comprehension of the underlying meanings. Despite this fact, he insists upon translating each portion of his Hungarian spiels. So he pauses many times, gazing skyward (perhaps hoping the elusive English words will descend from above?) while the rest of us stare at the corners of his mouth, where two congealed balls of spittle have been growing for what seems like several days. We fervently pray these sticky yellow gobs will not break loose while he pontificates in our direction.
This brings the tour experience to a whole new level, adding a certain element of Russian-roulette suspense.
After József's grand finale, he hands out tiny slips of Xeroxed paper, each containing his address (Fő u. 11, 8400 Ajka Hungary). He explains that he's a postcard collector, and asks us to send postcards from our home areas.
So please feel free to mail József a postcard. Just don't mention the spit-gobs.
Trans-Danubia Notebook I: In Search Of The Perfect Castle. First stop - Pannonhalma. Not really a castle per se, but more like a monastery. Built in 996 A.D. by Saint István, who founded the Hungarian nation-state four years later. A World Heritage site. [Pannonia was the Roman Empire's name for the province west of the Danube, around Aquincum (now Budapest).]
2: Fertőrákos, near the Austro-Hungarian border. Also not a castle, but a hollowed-out stone quarry where slaves labored to extract huge slabs of rock, which ended up on the façades of Vienna's finest mansions. One of the younger von Habsburgs created a massive barbed-wire monument on the nearby hill, possibly as penance for the sins of her ancestors. This is part of another World Heritage area.
3: Esterhazy-kastély, in Fertőd. Closer to the "castle" family of buildings. Partially restored, mainly to attract German/Austrian tourist €uros. One wing is used as an expensive hotel; another has been pressed into service as classroom space for the local schoolkids.
4: Jurisich-vár in Kőszeg. Our first true castle. Offers art exhibitions, a ceramics workshop, and an impressive marzipan museum... which attests to the infinite sculptural possibilities of almond paste.
5: Szent György-templom in Ják. Again, we're off the castle track. This is actually a lovely cathedral. [Some of the palaces we try to visit have been converted into make-do hospitals. Can't waste the space.]
6: Nádasdy-vár in Sárvár. Another "castle" castle, complete with a now-defunct moat. Contains a library and a lively cultural center.
7: Sümeg-vár. "Now THAT'S a castle," quoth my stepson. I couldn't agree more.
8: Festetics-kastély in Keszthely. The Versailles of Lake Balaton. Bee-yoo-tee-ful.
You know that life has taken a questionable turn when... your wallet contains the following three business cards: The first has a cheerful slogan, "Get Cash 'til Payday!" #2 is a well-worn card from your favorite bail bondsman. And the third one includes a 24-hour emergency phone number for the only gay-owned store in town that offers home delivery of alcoholic beverages: Sukkers Likkers.
Front Yard Games. Our house is pretty much identical to all the other houses on this street, which is almost exactly the same as the next street, which is very similar to... well, you get the picture. In a planned community like this, dominated by stormtroopers masquerading as a Home Owners Association, each resident strives to distinguish his/her home by placing a tasteful, HOA-approved objét in front.
For example, likenesses of Buddha grace the lawns of both Christians and Jews. Goat statues are flaunted by Vegetarians. Replicas of ancient Greek columns stand next to the doorsteps of people who think Ionic is witty remark, Doric was a character in Hamlet, and Corinthian refers to the widely-admired cinema œuvre of Corey Feldman.
We plan to bypass the HOA, install a flock of pink flamingos, and watch the fun begin.
Spanish Street Names: Camino San Mateo. Calle Las Positas. Avenida Camarillo. Is this a disguised attempt by us Gringos to salute those fine Mexican laborers who toil outdoors in the killing desert heat to build our houses and create our gardens?
Batching It. Things I Have Learned While The Ol' Ball-And-Chain Is Out Of Town: (1) my dirty skivvies do NOT automatically wash themselves and end up in the bedroom drawer; (2) peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on garlic bread taste pretty good, especially when you consider the alternative; and (3) out-of-date milk is almost drinkable, if you hold your nose and ignore the chunks.
I've come a long way, baby. Yes, I have finally accepted the fact that a Cadillac pickup truck actually exists. Of course, my whole world is topsy-turvy and I'm still struggling to make sense of this new reality, so I need to ask two questions:
1. Is the gun rack standard equipment?
2. Does it come fully loaded, with naked-lady-chrome-silhouette mudflaps?
911 Redux. In the European DD/M format, September 11 is written "11/9"... so perhaps this gaffe can be chalked up to the sheer obliviousness of German automotive engineers?
Speaking of which, I still have a hard time believing that Porsche makes a turbocharged SUV. Besides the obvious problem (top speed of 165, but rolls over while cornering), this whole idea is so far-fetched. Porsche? SUV?! Next thing you know, someone will try to tell me that Cadillac sells a pickup truck.
I just drove back from a short visit with a friend in Los Angeles. The weatherman said L.A. was experiencing a "heavy marine layer" with "onshore flow."
Translation: it was pretty f*ckin' cloudy.
But the clouds finally burned off near Beaumont.
And the smog cleared on the Coachella Valley downslope.
The sun is shining brightly here in Indio, and it's hotter than hell.
Feels like home.
What's unusual about this area? Date ranches and wind farms, of course. Shields boasts the best date shakes, but Oasis offers camel rides. There's also Brown Date Garden and the ever-popular windmill tours.
This blog is currently certified 35% EVIL by the Gematriculator. That number will change, as content is added. If Alan keeps it up, I suspect Evil will soon triumph over Good.
Lauren Bacall vigorously denies that Nicole Kidman is a legend. Rumor has it that a petulant Kidman plans to respond by releasing her cover of this old Annie Lennox song.
1) The Day The Planes Stopped Flying
2) The Falling Man
3) Porsche reintroduces the 911, which brings up some interesting questions: If they allow their model number to fade away, have the terrorists won? Or is this a bizarre marketing ploy (sample tagline: "faster than jets slamming into buildings")? And if the campaign succeeds, are they planning a Porsche 666?
the tenth of september: From the observation deck, Lady Liberty looked like a child's toy: so close, you could almost caress her with casually-outstretched fingers. By reaching with your other hand, it seemed nearly possible to touch the huge bridge spanning Verrazano's narrows.
Couch Potato Report: We recently bought a new flat-panel, 16:9 widescreen, high-def television. With the cable hookup, this baby is supposed to be capable of receiving somewhere north of 1,000 channels.
There's still nothing on.
[I have a few rants to get off my chest - so stay tuned, below.]
Where have all the pillows gone? A store called The Futon Shop sells this cool-looking black sofa bed. We thought it might look nice in the den. The product illustrations clearly show five or six pillows and a white print slipcover, with no disclaimer (e.g., "pillows and slipcover sold separately"), so we assumed these items would be included with the futon and frame.
Yeah, you can figure out where this story's going. But we were quite surprised (and even a tad angry) when the shipping box contained only a frame and rough-cotton mattress.
Boys and girls, can you say "Truth In Advertising"?
After The Futon Shop ignored our eMails, we contacted the Department of Consumer Affairs. Boy, those guys are real go-getters. They don't f*ckin' shilly-shally around, nosirree bob. They go right to the wall, defending California's consumers.
You guessed it. DCA said they can't do anything.
They referred us to the Better Business Bureau.
We feel so... protected.
Keeping Up With The Joneses. 22Feb2005 update: After rewriting this now-deleted posting, I submitted it to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and they just sent an acceptance. Here are the three Joneses originally linked: Tommy Lee Jones, Catherine Zeta-Jones and James Earl Jones.
And furthermore... When the Verizon installer finally arrived (a week late), he said there were no phonebooks.
Okay, no problem, we'll pick one up at our local Verizon store.
But there were no phonebooks at our local Verizon store.
Okay, no problem, we'll order one online.
But there were no phonebooks online, either.
In fact, there were none to be had anywhere.
Huh? What do you mean, no phonebooks?
It seems Verizon ran out of phonebooks for our area sometime before we moved here in July, and they won't publish the new ones until December.
Hm. Five months without phonebooks. That dixie cup and string are looking better all the time.
News from the seamy underbelly of the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films: Courtesy of SweatyPalmsMotel.com (our new sister publication).