Katabasis, a Theme for Trieste II

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KATABASIS, a THEME for TRIESTE11

 

By Rick Harsch

 

With Photographs by Jan Skomand

 

 

 

KATABASIS: a Theme for Trieste

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Humans are evanescent; cities are an attenuation of that being-tainted evanescence, a smart ape-group’s struggle against disappearance. Cities outlast us, and that is by nature mystifying, and we know that nothing about the city is humanly known on that very level which is the only one where what it is exists. So we haunt them with their own pasts, pasts of which they are well rid, as cities are the best humans did at approximating nature, which abhors an eternity. Cities are born to die, are ready to die, and they do—all—eventually die. Yet it is no paradox that in their dying cities produce great bursts of life–the metaphor brought to mind is rats taking torches to the armories—the humans in the cities have no urge to measure their currents against the crepuscular flex of the city. Mirrors don’t reflect honest decadence. And if humans be the strangest of earth’s creatures, and they certainly are, and if each city harbors tortoise-like lunatics (always men, for some reason) who persist in splendorous pigeon-cursing pique, insistent that the city must die first, the simple truth is the city will survive them all.

Nature perhaps as well coerces writers into anthropomorphicizing cities, as I have just done. The worst and most often inaccurate example is to call a city less vigorous than it once was a dying city. I need no other example than the subject of this book, Tergeste, Trieste, Trst, a city that has been associated famously with nowhere, and is considered internationally to be a dying city, if not a dead city. This should come as a surprise to the quarter of a million residents of Trieste—a number, after all, great enough to succumb to holocaust—but it is a cliché they live with; or live beside, for in their quotidian it is doubtful Triestini give much thought to the morbidity of their city. I am not a Triestini, but as a New Istrian living nearby in Izola, Slovenia, working in Trieste, visiting often, I am truly sick of the lack of inspiration behind the common misperception of Trieste. I would go so far as to call it inhuman.

The reason for the persistence of an insipid human myth is the lack of a vibrant newer myth. That, simply, is my diagnosis of the problem of humans and Trieste. Once the fevered, international port lost its hinterland—political economy turning a cold shoulder to geography–the city naturally changed dramatically. That it had also become something has been strangely overlooked by outsiders. Every city has its character, every neighborhood its character, and so every city its mischaracterizations. Thus I will make no attempt to determine the character of Trieste. I intend only to posit a theme for a city visited famously, and inarguably, by a unique and violent wind, the bora, a katabatic wind, Alpine air sucked down to replace languid Mediterranean vapors, knocking over old ladies and bicyclists, occasionally flinging a roof tile through a neck (Prague has its defenestrations, surely exaggerated; Trieste its decapitations). This wind is yet more powerful in metaphoric state, as witness the case of James Joyce, the most internationally famous historical Triestine, whose Trieste Katabasis is legendary and was of such force he put the protagonists of his final two books through much the same—Bloom, of course, as Ulysses had no choice whatsoever; and nor did Finnegan, the legendary drinker who went so far as to die so as to get himself a decent splash of whiskey.

I must immediately take a sword to that last paragraph. Off with Joyce’s head—that, too, is katabasis. The finest book on the phenomenon is The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, who leaves the reader deceived into a state of static euphoria, mopping the forehead with a handkerchief, the journey having gone well. It wasn’t his fault, for Miller knew that katabasis was very much like a carnival ride assembled by the drunk, blind and demonic. For some descent was arduous and rewarding, of course: for others it was a headfirst plunge into a karstic hole, a foiba…And we will indeed get to that perpetual katabasis in time, smrt fascismu! and pace nel mondo.

Meantime I cast ahead of myself, having heard from Mac, the gent from Ghent, who inadvertently warned me off the ratlines to the buried magazines. ‘I have been re-reading the text you sent me more carefully,’ he wrote, referring to just the first three paragraphs; ‘Katabasis was for me, monomaniac mariner, only a wind, a dangerous one, but predictable in its unpredictability, like a Venturi. But that was too easy…I suspected. And suspicious I looked up Katabasis and found that it firstly meant going down (to the underworld) or toward the coast…as opposed to the Anabasis of Xenophon’s fame…’ Naturally, all that Mac suspects of my intentions is true enough…true enough: strong words for modern man. Yet there is also simply Trieste mundane, tramontane, adamantine: within the shell of the turtle, one might say…particularly as my photographer and I began this venture with the intention of violating a minor law for luck (Mac: ‘Chronos castrated his father with an adamantine sickle.’). This involved transporting an invasive species across national lines and releasing the animals in the pond of the Giardino Pubblico at the end of Via Battisti, a park featuring the finest chapter in Claudio Magris’ Microcosmos, in which not only did I learn of the turtles in the pond but also the many busts of writers in particular, Italo Svevo in magnificence, his head having been stolen several times. I read the book more than a decade ago, probably about the time I bought the first turtle, Captain Michalis, for my son. At the time the creature was about the size of my thumb, the shape it would be if it were pounded with a mallet. A year later I bought Bouboulina for my daughter. Gradually the turtles outgrew my capacity to make for them a paradise; though the children did their part by losing interest in them within weeks, one assumes that peace and food security comes to less than that which nature invests within desires of the testudinatal race. A fair amount of swimming, the hunt…But Captain and Bouboulina ‘swam’ eventually in the largest plastic tub I could find, the fresh waters of which began turning green within a day of changing, turbid within a week, and too often were again changed only when a stranger to our balcony noted the smell. It could have been worse: Izola was until recently a fishing town, a tin cannery town, a place that smelled like fish. There’s little doubt that a degree of nostalgia drifted off my balcony as the turtles lived on as we presume reptiles do, they and their odd limb-tips half flipper/half claw, unseen under the muck layer more often than not. I know I know nothing, yet assume that the smaller-brained creatures express stress by dying: and these two always harbored great vigor. Perhaps I merely lack the culture to grow a proper disease. So I cleaned them in the shower, put them in a cloth bag, put the bag in a fittingly plastic shoulder bag, and my photographer and I drove to Trieste and made our way to the public garden. The busts stood in still heft amid more jungly verdance than I recalled, and the pond itself was fed by a spring and narrow falls surrounded by bamboo. This was going to be easy, I thought. Just above the falls was a rounded clearing over-filled with benches, where two Serbian bums were passing the day. The first asked my photographer for a smoke and disappeared once he got it. I decided not to wait for the other to disappear, particularly as he seemed to be taking some kind of interest in what I was doing, having clambered into the bamboo and down a couple stages of rocky aquadescent. I quickly removed Captain and placed him on a stone over which water ran rapidly. He remained withdrawn and the flow did not carry him to his better life. Still the second Serb observed. I took out Bouboulina. What was he looking at, really? The last thing you want when doing something wrong is to appear to be doing something wrong, so I held up Bouboulina for him to see, a gesture he mistook for an offering—‘Ne, hvala’—and I put Bouboulina in the falls, she emerged spry, and was soon out of sight. I nudged Captain a couple times with my foot as if across asphalt, and he, too, was relocated…within the safe confines of Trieste, safely apart from native species.

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Goodbye, Captain.

In his prescient classic The Folk from the Earth (my translation), in the chapter “Katabasis Monterno”, the early 19th century Freiburg philosopher von Schlag (sic?) argued that prison had become the one true church of modern man, the last refuge of hope for redemptive process. As I understand the fragment (as presented by a Danish philosopher of minor repute whose name I no longer recall), von Schlag (sic?) meant to suggest that the lurch of modernity toward industrialization, away from nature, was a permanent shift, and that among the manifest changes in the totality of the life of humans was a deterioration in all aspects of the incorporeal, a degradation of myth, an interment of lore along with banishment of all mysterious in lives of the night. Yet the surpassing need for this incorporeal required that some sort of maladaptation was necessary, and so as regards katabasis, we would have prison. Sparking through intellectual history, with matted coats and corded ruddering tails, ideas provoke an excitement akin to that of the finest poetry, even if their application is a slippery matter. I’m reminded of Spengler’s unforgettable line: you can take the man out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of the man. The very sighting of a truth in that line excites me in precisely the same way I’m uplifted upon sudden glimpse of a hedgehog, or a nutria. And there is no doubt that indeed a prison sentence is an invitation to an exploration of katabasis, even on the mundane level of rehabilitation.

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The Coroneo Perp Walk, Trieste Central, or where a passaggio connects the justice building with the jail.

The resonance was not accidental, for the very process of making this book began as a visit to Coroneo, Trieste’s prison, as an act of homage by my photographer and I to a forgotten wreck of a man, dead three years, likely having committed suicide by mixing heroin with an enormous litrage of alcohol. Štranzo was much despised and more feared, having a penchant and talent for fighting, a dark spirit, a drug habit, and a sensitivity to slight keener than an albino’s to desert sun. He was all the more hated socially for having squandered talents bestowed upon a very few in life: he was a rare artist, the kind of whom it is said perhaps one in a generation passes this way, with an incisive, comprehensive mind. He was invited from his home in Capodistria (Koper) to study fine arts in Ljubljana, where his impact was felt immediately, remaining even as he himself quickly vanished into a life of wandering, heroin, and brutal assaults. By the time I met him he was a new man; his time in Coroneo was enough to prevent him from beating strangers to a pulp for having the nerve to turn their eyes from him as they passed in the street. His sentences often ended with ‘…don’t want to end up back in jail.’ His attraction to me is of no importance, as my whole life I have been singled out by the odd, the lame, the demonic, the deranged, the needy (I could provide example after example: the one guy on that plane, that train…the oddity places me in a class of some sort with a speculative Jesus: For instance, over the span of my 58 years, at least 20 people have had me touch their head injuries, most recently a former Yugoslav reporter who had been shot in Prague by Russians in 1968. That was not yet two weeks ago.). Importantly, I did not fear Štranzo; that was surely one pre-requisite. Another was an interest in literature. My photographer shares these, and he, quite separately, had been a friend to Štranzo. In my apartment, Štranzo was gentle with my children, physically loving to my dogs, and could not help but exude the atomized stigmata of one often forced to leave. He never wanted to be unwelcome in my apartment, and even if he was not one to yield to anything at all he could not prevent my knowing that. Perhaps that has nothing to do with his scattershot tendency to bear gifts—often spectacles of nature like giant donkey ear seashells that washed up one day, impossible plants that, like him no longer could manage an effort to take root. And one night, it was past three in the morning, he buzzed me awake and arrived up the stairs with a holiday display size Italian flag and these words I will never forget, ‘I thought you might want this.’ Humans disguise an incomprehensible nature by a surface complexity, yet when it comes down to it we are no different from dogs sniffing each other’s asses.  On the great dogwalk of life, Štranzo and I sniffed each other and found a short couple years of simpatico available. But he was never happy, and he spoke to me too often of suicide. He was off heroin but hooked on morphine and the last year of his life he kicked morphine but needed all the more alcohol. Suffice to say what would have been required for him to live as an artist was beyond his means. For Štranzo, katabasis was welcome torture from which he emerged with terrifying eyes he covered with sunglasses. Coroneo was easy by comparison. He simply did not want to return and so only engaged in violence far from crowds. He described one of these fights, at a house out in the foothills inland—a butcher knife and another two appliances were involved and he had to restrain himself from killing the man. I am not certain, but I think a woman who didn’t much care who lived through the battle was in the bedroom in a state of low alert at the time, and I think Štranzo intentionally provoked the other guy by having sex with her, that in fact he had sex with her entirely for that reason. He wasn’t a saint. So when he died not many people cared and too many were simply glad of it. A detail from his life that was surely more important than any other was that when he was 21 his twin brother, Branimir, by all accounts a talented and kind young man, leapt from the bells of the campanile in Capodistria in Tito Square. That, too, is katabasis.

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The people will decide if this is a hall of justice or not.

My photographer and I visited Štranzo’s favorite spots in Izola and Koper, but also felt that no day of homage would be complete without also seeing Coroneo. Our directions were vague enough to bring us to the intersection from where this photograph of the hall of justice was snapped. We asked for directions, unaware that were actually at our destination—the prison connected to the building at its rear. The grandeur of the building was lost on me, putting me off only so that I wished to hurry on, and we did, finding ourselves on the other side, where the ‘entrance’ to the prison is hidden behind a row of trees. We found a guard, and as my photographer speaks Italian, ‘we’ asked about Štranzo, who had been out for at least seven or eight years by then. Describing Štranzo’s loose-limbed build began the process of remembrance, but it was the combination of his wild nature and loud voice that finally did it. The guard smiled. Sure, he’d had to club Štranzo a few times. There was genuine affection in his recollection.

I got to thinking and we got to talking. Trieste had been of interest to me since I had seen the last page of Ulysses at a time when the city had far more poetic meaning to me than locational precision; but it was that building, its grandiosity not grandeur, the conceit of any building allowed to label itself justice, it was that more than anything that was the final lure to writing another book about a place. And of course I had never been comfortable with the title of the Morris book, the tendency of Trieste to be known so little for so little and still gotten so wrong, and…I have no wish to be immune from the charms of urban history. Yet the incipient fascination of a naïve writer, in that last exalted stage of any author of profane books, remains an immeasurable lure, a powerful if mundane loci, a bottom toward which to plunge having found myself living on the Gulf of Trieste for reasons having nothing to do with this city that had taken on a mystique particular to my inchoate yearning. Earthly connections are available as stars, and it was a simple constellation for me to label: Joyce, upon landing in Trieste, was arrested within two hours having inserted himself somehow into a melee in Piazza Unita. He did not find himself held in the Coroneo, but neither are the stars of Orion actually neighbors. Another way to express what I am trying to suggest is that nothing arose to prevent the momentum that was gathering toward my writing about Trieste.

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Why did I forget about Zurich and Paris?

 

Last night my daughter, Bhairavi, and I took one of our dogs, Sultan Suleiman, for a swim, on the way running into an adolescent rat just in front of our apartment that our hound had trouble focusing on as he is a creature of habit. The rat was running along the curb of an island of flora where Suleiman tends to relieve himself, and though the creature was scooting along with elaborate ratleggery, Suleiman missed it. Only when the rat sensed my vigilance did it begin to consider the need to escape, and, being a rat, it made a maze of the matter, turning abruptly and running back the way it had come. Only then, at excessive urging, did I get Suleiman to notice. He chased the rat from the labyrinth of its eventual demise, the creature leaping the curb and disappearing into undergrowth. At the beach I found the usual beached-home shell and bit of sea-polished glass with which to decorate the photo, which includes the type of book that I have no desire to write simply because so many already exist. Which is the reason that I asked Juan Vladilo, astrophysicist working in Trieste, if he would give some thought to places in the city that are of some interest yet generally not already covered in books. He promised to do so, and maybe feeling a measure of gratitude, I finally, after knowing him nearly ten years, asked him where his observatory was located. ‘Near San Giusto.’ ‘Where’s that?’ I asked in all my innocence. His eyes widened, which probably came naturally to him as one learns early not to squint when looking through binoculars and telescopes. ‘You’re going to write a book on Trieste and you don’t know where San Giusto is?’

His words had the effect of a sudden flaring match light in a darkened warehouse. Oh yes! Absolutely. Thank you, Juan, thank you, went my silent exuberant writer brain. Yes, that is precisely the way to write about San Giusto. Every book about Trieste includes San Giusto—they must—for San Giusto is indeed among the most important locales in the city, historic, palimpcestual, enduring! Central! Yet this city I love and with which I have now been by degrees intimate for seventeen years has kept San Giusto hidden from me. Certainly Morris wrote of it, though it would not be odd if my intermittent disgust with Morris’ love of empires had me yawning just at that point. And my extensive reading about and around Trieste would have been more focused on questions like why this armpit and not the other (Genoa)?, antipathies from Guelph and Ghibelline to Brit and Yugoslav, motifs like Trieste as serendipitous non-island in Venezian sea and bandits and banditry awash in bandit sea, not to mention the city as one flashpoint of horrors in the 20th century.

With extra attention I proceeded to read all three of Italo Svevo’s novels. What did San Giusto mean to Trieste’s greatest novelist? I had prepared myself for the answer without realizing it, for after six years outside a classroom as a result of a modern drought, what the world of cities calls an economic crash, I had just last year been hired to teach mariners English in a Habsburgh structure on Piazza Hortis, where a full body statue of Svevo presides, and every time I passed him I patted him on the shoulder. The man of the city is as fond as the preceding agrarians of speaking of fate and arguing whether coincidence exists or not. I weigh in here only to mention my luck: teaching in the same square that was chosen for Svevo’s statue! Oddly, I think, in three novels Italo Svevo never mentioned San Giusto. In fact, if Svevo were one’s guide, Trieste was the Corso—and no one seems to know where that now is—the public gardens, and the bourse, not to mention the boudoirs…This, of course, was the answer I sought, which is not to say that Giovanni Vladilo was wrong.

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Dear Italo.

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The acrobat of impermanent emotion given the illusion of permanence is appreciated by the author.

Particularly as there are other explanations. Consider this: when reading about the 4th Crusade one is likely to recall the image of the blind 90 year old doge, Enrico Dandolo, stepping ashore onto a bloody Constantinople rock to the deafening (he was not yet deaf) noise of thousands of men clashing, screaming, heaving, swiping, swearing, dying, bemoaning, of women screaming in terror, or future explosions the battle insistently beckoned, or immediately look up at the wily, acrobatic Venezians, there masts makeshift boarding planks, or mathematically oriented, determine the number of dead required to successfully storm and take a certain tower…What you will not read of is the goings on in the Hagia Sophia. And so when Dandolo began this bizarre, revolting venture by calling on subjects of the Istrian peninsula and citizens of Trieste and Muggia in a panic sought to pacify the old murderer with elaborate shows of humble adoration, one is not likely to imagine the scenes so far as to include San Giusto, even if there is actually some chance that, if the doge were indeed invited ashore to be feted, San Giusto may have been the chosen site for a banquet and obsequies.

And unlike Hagia Sophia, San Giusto does not stand out to most self-sufficient visitors to Trieste. If it did, I would have seen it and asked after it. It is an old castle near shore after all. Quite likely when it was built, this problem was not foreseen. But over time, especially concentrated Hapsburgher time, numerous buildings of bulk and height came to line the shore of the port and move towards the hills, surrounding San Giusto entirely, so that by now the castle is far closer to the sea (where the riva runs a line sw to ne) than to the eastern boundaries of the city. I’ll illustrate this in a moment, but first, to supplement the nature of such oddities I offer this photo for consideration:

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Trieste seen from the first Servola off-ramp.

Cities of broad shoulders and industry, cities of industrial birth and skyscraping adolescence, even premature sulfuric old age, suffer little aesthetic damage from incongruity. After admiring the finest skyscapers of Chicago, one does not find the related conglomeration of plants built to convert raw materials into gold turning the skies of Gary, Indiana, death-greened colors that mirror Lake Erie’s cast just before the fire breaks out. Old cities don’t have that luxury. The modern stands out as in the above picture of the back of a grocery store, a plain brick building, sports stadia with their lights, apartment blocks, a relatively modern hospital in the back ground. It is by no means a pretty picture. (Fear not entirely for the vagaries of the sea plump for the ghosts of their land structures, imbue them with ghostly wonder.) Yet ugly that picture may be, Servola is integral to Trieste, as I found when I began driving there three or four times a week to meet people whose son and my own engage in an obscure rite I am not at liberty to reveal.  But that particular picture is here in relation to San Giusto for it includes a remarkable structure I only recently identified. That brick building is the Risiera di San Sabba, the only operative crematorium in Italy during World War II. This is upsetting to many Triestini, quite naturally. In fact, one necessary acquaintance, Normanno, became highly agitated when I explained that I had procured the photo, taken by my photographer. ‘I will invite you and your entire family to dinner and then take you to San Giusto…’ he objected. He did not understand, he claimed, why this building had a place in my book. Interestingly, two days later I just happened to discover that he had once taken his daughter to Risiera di San Sabba as an object lesson of some sort. (You think your life is bad…) Of course, I had read much about Risiera di San Sabba, and knew it was somewhere within a couple miles of where it is and had intended to visit at some point, when this book dictated. After all, the worst sort of katabasis may be either dying in such a place or surviving confinement there. Yet I found out it was part of my routine in a sense during the whole time I was meditating on San Giusto and what it meant that I had never focused on the place. Normanno argued that Risiera di San Sabba may as well not have been there at all. ‘The Germans did that, not the Italians.’ Now this is sensitive topical territory we will negotiate often in this book. For now, I will say that yes, Germans did, predominantly, ‘do’ that; but they did that with their own SS, Ukrainian SS, Austrian SS, and Italian SS. Why so disturbed so nationalistically? The gauleiter of the littoral at the time was Odilon Globocnik, a murderous swine who was half-Slovene and half-Hungarian. I can’t speak for Hungarians, but I know that no Slovene feels shame or complicity because of the involvement of the bloodthirsty Globocnik’s paternity. The engineer in charge of building the crematorium at the old rice husking plant was German, a serious man known for his many human-killing ovens, chiefly in Polish territories, Erwin Lambert. I suggest that for Normanno a walk through the Risiera di San Sabba would serve as a healthy katabatic experience, and given the torments endured at the risiera, the child’s skull kicked in, the elderly man beaten to death, the slaughtered, gassed, humiliated, rat-bitten, burned alive, the permanently traumatized,

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A necessary pause for beauty that survived all the monstrosities visited upon Trieste and those people in, out and throughout the town.

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the raped, stabbed, shot, beaten to death with shovels, gun butts, bricks, the cremated, partially cremated, the gassed, Normanno might come to distantly if perhaps only subconsciously understand what the Dante he certainly has memorized once endured.

Clearly, then, cities all have their secrets, multitudinous, and selective in the subjects who will receive their revelations. I showed the photo of the Risiera to a French Triestine who had somehow, despite a restless and exploratory nature, not yet been to see it in nearly ten years residence in Trieste. ‘That is the Risiera?’ he exclaimed. He had seen it more often than I had and yet had never seen it. This is a very simple explanation for my own ignorance of San Giusto, as you can see. I was told that on Molo Audace, the nearest pier to Piazza Unita, you can see San Giusto, but even there lies a problem.

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The Ugliest Building on the Riva.                                                                                                    I have yet to decide whether to expose the hideous frontage of the building seen above facing the sea. The orange and brown monstrosity is so ugly that it has become for me the most recognizable lump of Trieste. The Audace pier lies off the riva perpendicular to that building, and it is between that building and its neighbor that one can spy sections of the castle of San Giusto. Yet such is the hideous nature of that building, its dull brown haircut and bland, not to say uninspired, façade, that the eye is either drawn to it perversely—directly–as the stomach churns or seeks desperately a sight far off in any other direction. This is perhaps the only time when one such as I could appreciate Mussolini’s victory phallus to my left, or, the other direction, the more humble lighthouse near the old train station. The last possibility is that my eyes would linger on the building, retaining their sensitivity, their desire, in order to alight on some wonder beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Uzbekistan: Sex Tourism

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Stockhom Terror

Dear Rick,

Iv’e been anxiously waiting your letter fixing my letter to President Donald Trump about the centerpiece of our vamp (vamp is right?) tourism. And I have to admit to you Ricky that I was maybe a little angry because you were so slow. Then this horrible truck driving in Stockholm. I tell myself maybe Mr. Harsch knows more than he tells me or maybe Rick is right to wait, to move slowly. You are very wise. Please if you could make the letter bigger enough that you can expose yourself to Mister President Trump that this terrorist is a bad actor. He was a pimp who overbeat girls and one even could have died (his name is in other registered envelope–youse your own discreet). Yes, boiling alive is bad. But is it better to beat alive to death? Mr. Trump should know two things: one, that in concordat with his policy of exluding bad actors this perp (is good, no?) was only recently shown Ubekistan door, denied visa from United States (Bravo Mr. Trump), and now look what is happening to liberal country with open door policy? Of course you see how very much we are in alinement with Trump policies and ideas and desires.

Thank you and looking forward to your letter,

Arslan Levantinov

                                                          Minister of the Interior,                                                                Uzbekistan

Letters from Uzbekistan: Sex Tourism

Dear PresidentTrump,

First, old business. We have photos of the subjects your representative mentioned at every border in the country and have closed all taxi access pizza parlors. (Note to RH: parlors is ok here?).

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Quickly on to new business, and happily so. Our offer has expanded ten-fold since the false revelations regarding a practice that has already been, we would like to think, brought to its highest level of artistry in our country, what we call the ‘Gulna Torrent’. Historically the art has had many names.

We have also taken your advice and expanded the range of our offer so that we now have the utterly (Rh: absolutely?) exclusive (Presidential Primo, Corporate Cameo, Diplomat Dip) all the way down to the, as your man said to me in private, which I am sure is on the tapes, the ‘freestreet’. Our Pigalle!

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We have also revised our slogan to a more globally, yet nationally appropriate verse. As I explained to your man, Uzbekistan is geographically endorheic, which means that what flows in never flows out. So try this: What Spurts (RH: drips? seems, you know, weak. Maybe you can think of something else?) in Uzbekistan Stays in Uzbekistan!

Mr. Mirzyoyez looks forward to your visit, which can be arranged to coincide with that of any other state leader!

Best,

Arslan Levantinov, Minister of Tourism

(Note: I received this letter just a few days ago and have yet to get to the changes. RH)

 

 

 

SAILING THE GOOD SHIP TITO: Hospitalized in Izola

SAILING THE GOOD SHIP TITO: Hospitalized in Izola

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I chose this photo to emphasise the architectural quality of the hospital of Izola, which was designed to look like a passenger vessel. Berthed on the second to last promontory in Slovenia the hospital overlooks Izola (in this photo Izola compares a genuine vessel with the elegant one above) and on the other side, Koper, Trieste, and mountains ranging from Podnanos to Triglav and Krn to the Tirol and deep into the Dolomitis.

The brilliance of the design extends beyond the external location, and you can take that in the darkest way if you like, the hospital being the place for many a man’s final journey–women, too, but I associate ships with wandering fools, who throughout history have more often been men. But most journeys are more pleasant, like cruises were meant to be, trips from illness to health. When I got mowed down by a car while riding my bicycle I had an eight day journey in this boat that never moves–and what a journey it was! Saving the first leg, what I will refer to as the long existential embarkation, I spent about 36 hours with a dislocated shoulder–try sleeping in that condition–and a broken arm, while the medical staff, sharpening their instruments, waited for my blood density to come down (I take blood thinners, a result of a voyage about 18 years ago). I’ll never forget my boss visiting me, knowing that what I needed was to get out on deck where I could smoke, the pain being a constant so that whatever effort was necessary was all to the good.The surgeon who fixed me happened to be the former head of surgery; he lost that position when he was sued for operating on the wrong hand of a teenager who didn’t actually need the surgery in the first place. A few months after my surgery my surgeon and I experienced a very moving scene in his office when I went for a final check with him, the poor man, an excellent surgeon, admonishing me to work hard to get back to normal to help him with his reputation…or perhaps more accurately to prevent his reputation diminishing further.

Refošk

This latest voyage began when I suspected my urine had some blood in it. I took a glass into the toilet with me and the result was astonishing: it was the color and density of refošk, our earthy, fresh native wine.

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I chose this picture, I admit, for the reader to imagine what readers might. I don’t actually have a photo of that first sample.

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Light cannot be seen through a good domestic refošk.

I was surprisingly calm holding that warm, loving glass in my hand. Most likely I had lost control of my blood thinner and now it was way too thin. I would merely have to go a couple days without tablets and everything would be fine.

I checked the medical dictionary, the search engine that needs no free advertising, and every site suggested that the problem was indeed likely to be unthreatening. But they all said go get it checked immediately. As it was a Saturday, I had little inclination to do so, but soon I was having absurd philosophical turbulence regarding whether to show the glass to my wife or not.

So within minutes we were on our way to the hospital’s emergency room.

It didn’t occur to me that I might have to stay there.

Dada

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I was extremely lucky, I soon realized, that I had thrown an extra book into my bag, anticipating an hour or two of waiting. I was about fifty pages into a biography of Tristan Tzara, and I nabbed it, half-conscious that another book on Dada, Andrei Codrescu’s The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess in Zurich, was already in there.

Dada cannot change the hospital that’s holding you, but if your hospital is built to look like a ship a swim in Dada is a highly recommended remedy for every facet of your hospital voyage–and of course every stage of an institutional experience is in need of human revolt, which can be accomplished invisibly by a mind steeped in Dada.

Three Dead in Izola Hospital Shooting

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As I lay there hoping there was no tear in an inner organ, that the problem was simply that my blood had gotten too thin, I naturally compared the medical situation in the US with that in Slovenia. I had for the moment forgotten that last August ‘A 70-year-old man shot and killed a police officer and a doctor and seriously injured another police officer at the Izola general hospital on Monday. The shooter died as the police attempted to prevent him from fleeing the crime scene.’  

The attempt, by the way, was successful. The guy stopped fleeing as soon as he was dead.

Throughout the world, the deranged US gun habits are a dark marvel. How do you imagine cities where hundreds are murdered every year? How do you imagine a nation that is unmoved by public massacres of children? Especially if you live in a town like Izola, where the murder rate doesn’t exist? About 9 years ago we read about one Macedonian stabbing another in the ass in a bar frequented by Macedonians. Recently the police chased an Albanian gangster through the old town down to the sea, where the guy flung his gun. Yet of all places, Slovenia’s first American style gun event occurred in the Izola hospital. Apparently the shooter was upset about waiting times or something…I just read the article I quoted from: the doctor he killed was a urologist. Today when I was told I could go home as soon as the urologist checked my results and decided what to do I asked how long it would be and was told there was no telling, as he was the only urologist in the region. Now I know how that happened.

These waiting lists are one of the reasons Slovenia, a very small and poor nation, is ranked so low among the world’s nations when it comes to health care that it usually is tied with the US. That’s how bad it is.

The good part is that everybody has health insurance and no one gets turned away. Emergencies are treated like emergencies and in a case like my own this weekend they do everything possible to be sure that they’ve not overlooked anything. In the US I probably would have been sent home and told to go see the urologist at his office, to make an appointment. Or they would have decided that as the problem was relatively clear, there was no need to go so far as to have a, a…cistoskopija, a cocktastrophe…Dada is against gratitude…

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We would prefer that you stay

Even when tests showed that my blood was indeed extremely thin, I was not allowed to go home. Not without tolerating some persuasion. The doctor, who after all has more authority throughout the world than any other weaponless creature, politely convinced me to stay when I told her that I could just wait until Monday and see if the blood had thickened sufficiently as I would simply stop taking the blood thinning medicine.

I didn’t have a tooth brush.

My blood was so thin they wouldn’t wait for it to thicken on its own–they gave me medicine right away. Maybe they wouldn’t have let me brush my teeth anyway.

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There was no telling what would happen.

ADMITTED

I was taken to NEPHRO BUNKER 5, a five bed suite with a private toilet, as the two occupants were diapered.

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Adult diapers are a much better invention for the clergy than for the ranks of nurses.

Gospod Mislimović was in the first bed on my left. He displayed an exhausted curiosity toward me that proved he was alert.

Godpod Govorović was in the last bed on the right and would be my neighbor. Little of what he said was intended for sustained communication. His teeth were not in the room.

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Does smoking kill? If so, when?

At this point in time, smoking can no longer be managed on the balcony off the room, though I would have tried had I been alone in the room, or incarcerated with another smoker.

Hospitalized in NEPHRO BUNKER 5, should I have been considering smoking at all? Fuck off. This whole voyage actually began five days earlier, on my hundredth day without alcohol (I refuse to leap to the easy conclusion that sobriety is bad for the health – the experiment is still in its infant stage). Besides, I am smoking about half a pack a day, and often even less. Snatched, in a sense, from my staid existence and taken on this voyage unprepared, it was a lucky strike that my wife had a full pack in her purse and I had a lighter in my bag.

Being unable to brush my teeth is one thing, forced to go without smoking is another.

Humans would be a step closer in wisdom to the apes if they never considered such things, but from what we know, for several thousand years humans have tried to find ways to bang their brains against the walls of their skulls in order to determine who is the captain of the vessel I was on. We can more or less decide that the patients are the passengers, and the nurses, doctors, and all the rest, including the guy who left the french fries from lunch out on their own gurney overnight, are the sailors, keeping the ship from foundering.

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Which one are you? Right: these are your only choices.

Nurses probably have the most control over the success or failure, the actual nature, of the voyage. We know that no institutional voyage produces extraordinary sailors; the piranhic nibbling of the quotidian is impossible to defend against. Yet we know that certain attributes of the society where the voyage takes place can affect the constitution of the sailors. The nurses, therefore, in the United States, are known to be – on average – less empathetic, imaginative, and intelligent, than those in most countries that are not currently having a war fought in their territory. In Slovenia, this context includes Titoismus, the, in real terms untermable, the unquantifiable yet very very real, in all terms real and otherwise process that took place after World War II in Yugoslavia, by which a land ruled by a dictator who was at times brutal, at times whimsically nasty, at times downright unfair, nibbled away less of the finer nature of the resident humans than nearly any country on Earth during that time AND to such an extent that many decades after Tito’s death, after a savage war that allowed savage interventions, the rending of Yugoslavia itself into things like Slovenias, the people still retain more of the finer nature of the human than in almost any place on the globe.

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I know, enjoy it while it lasts.

One manifestation of Titoismus is that nurses are often on the side of the smoker against the blind absolute dictatorial edict of the hierarchs of the ship. The problem I did not foresee when a smiling nurse indicated she understood my need for a smoke (it had been many hours and I had smoke but two or three earlier in the day–I just needed one to satisfy the addiction) was that the hospital had undergone a great deal of reconstruction since my last lengthy voyage and I had, as it turned out, no idea how to exit the building. Luckily, I was not alone  download3

I had my five-legged rolling drip for a companion. We were on the third floor, went down to 0, where the action gets hottest during the day and where most doors are, but it turned out the former entrance was now just a couple sets of closed and inoperable sliding doors. They were near the emergency entrance, but as construction of institutions and other large buildings such as airports in recent decades has emphasized mystery, preventing the uninitiated from understanding the overall of the operations, the emergency entrance was impossible to reach from the inside for non-sailors.

The hospital is huge, but we had not yet worried about this. Obviously there would be an entrance and exit on the other side of the building. By the time I found it, it was after 10 p.m., which may have meant nothing, but the area was abandoned and the doors did not work for us. I later found that they had been having troubles, so it is unjust to conclude that I had been locked in.

Though I had effectively been locked in.

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Here we find a test of humanity. Those who relent at this point are beyond saving. We were not. The first or second floor was an option if we could find an empty room and open the balcony doors, but it seemed a better idea to try -1, which, I figured, might not be entirely underground.

Nor is it. But that does not mean there was an unlocked exit down there.

We had walked some number of kilometers by the time I decided the time had come to look not for an exit, but for a safe place to smoke. That, of course, would definitely be found, if anywhere, on -1. And naturally we drifted toward the farthest corner we could reach, finally coming upon this:

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We had just passed ‘Garderoba 2,’ the door of which was slightly ajar…I kept that in mind but moved on. Perhaps there was an exit in this forlorn corner of the building.

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But this seemed to be the end. Look: no handle, no middle slice to indicate sliding. But now look at this:

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The sliding was up and down! Not only that, it was so rapid that there was a sign warning of it. I think it was to the right on the picture above this one. It was so fascinating we went through and back twice (I knew it was some risk going through the first time, there being no guarantee of being allowed to return…but the smoker is a bold species. Perhaps they would find me in the morning, or on Monday, the pack empty, shivering, out cold, at the point with no disembarkation…My friend stoic beside me.

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The door shut behind us, this truly was the end of the line. Heavy aluminum doors with one locked handle. To the left you can just make out a dumbwaiter.

There was a great pulse of enormous industry ground to a halt about this space, not unpleasant under the circumstances…rather like a more typical vessel passing at night so close as to nearly scrape against the rock walled castle that did nothing but provide a theatre for slaughter after slaughter…

I sat next to the dumbwaiter and enjoyed a cigarette.

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Can you see it?

No?

Here:

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right down to the filter.

I suppose I philosophized a bit, took stock of ‘things’. One interesting aspect of the metaphor attending to the journey is that the light was not at the end of the tunnel, but back by the danger door.

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Back in the room

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I reclined and to my surprise, felt what is best described as the apex experience of the opium addict, the moment of optimal combination of perceived clarity and well-being.

I don’t know

I guess time

time

becomes a lazy contortionist

And there’s the night nature of the vessel itself that appears during the day when things that cannot happen do not and things that can cannot, while the few impossible become

or happen

like, verifiably untrue was the fact that I received a message from my Uzbeki acquaintance Arslan Levantinov that night, mysteriously reassuring me that I had not been poisoned ‘…I mean in case you have already received by what we call camel my letter regarding the country of your birth.’

Because the thing isdownload5

I did not have my telephone with me that night. I recall thinking of it when we left for the hospital and deciding ‘for what.’ It was only the next afternoon, when my family delegation arrived that I had my phone. So the message must have come on the second night.

but in a hospital during the quiet of night the metaphor becomes hyper-real, things underwater stand on the ground

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and what is more perseveringly disconcerting than not knowing who your friends are?

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Next to me, Govorović began to grow talkative. Looking straight up, he spoke too garbled for me to make out much–at one point he did say ‘porco dio’, but without stress, and he did say quite a lot. My mood was light for a philosopher, so I was not disturbed by these night declamations, not even when I had my head on the pillow, was turned to foetal left, and

GRAČIVORGERGENŠNEKŠČNEKŽENSKEMDREKBHGRRRRRHMAČČČČECKPORCODIO

I answered, telling him how sometimes you have no idea when you’re a writer if you’re talking to anybody, in fact I have a book I finished last year, the best work I’ve ever done and what’s frustrating is the satire is playing out every day and the bo0k is being seen by no one, nor

and he was silent as if in listening response.

and he spoke again

Thinking of the cigarette adventure I tried, ‘NO SANCTUARY’ and he seemed amused enough in my imagination I tried it a few more times, and I was sleeping so I can’t remember all the good lines, but we spoke of the communication of birds who needed no language, so no no don’t get me wrong, please go on, but from a philosophical view is language really

a missing leg*

*see legs

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The device to be used to call a nurse hung above my head like a proto free range telephone, and as if factoried in, I awoke at 4:30 to see that my dripping bag was ipso facto not as it were empty and I pressed a button that summoned the nurse who replied “4:30” and when I pointed to the empty bag disconnected it and connected the backup bag factotumtorily.

That was a hospital voyage alarm clock, which is, like the very sea–that’s what I had been…getting my sealegs–fluid, even if most of us have our flimsical psychotropic moments when we are certain this or that, probably that, is behind the timing of everything, with particular and astute attention paid to that which is least what cannot be said.

One trick I learned: In the declared morning, when it is dark outside, all glass between inside and out is covered and all lights are on. In certain parts of the declared daytime all glass between outside and inside is covered and all lights are on.

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Above is the kidney, something like the bladder, and, highlighted, the stomach, which is shaped like a kidney, or kidney bean.

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AUTOCENSOR EFFECTED

Bluntnosed rhino rhamming kidney rhemoved from site.

Much ado is adone.

Rhecal mode:

Nurse in false dawn

drip dripped new drip

morning

rhino attack and rhoaches parading in stomach at same time, scissors

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my friend

on knees hugging friend

nurhses disappear, frhiend remains tenacious as fiend

laborlevel pains

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3 to -1 roundtrip on canvas assed wheeled chair, bobsledder expert sailor running the vehicle, manikinned poses in pain beyond typology

relief, records, parades called off for second scan

Kidney stopped, or had stopped

Tune in tomorrow. Remember, this is sunday.  The lecture on simultaneous bleedout, constipation, stomach rhazor roach march, kidney exeunt, bladder blow full stoppage was last weekend

“So, you mean I have to wait until tomorrow morning to find out? What time is it now?”

“11 a.m.”

“So, I have to

“we’re afraid so”

What were they afraid of, exactly?

So I told the family delegation

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And then there were one.

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” I looked at him he looked at me all I could do was hate him ” but I couldn’t tell who was pogueing who

point properly proposed

please proceed to probables: pick yer paisan: porpetto prose: pure purplyred to pink to painless, a mere gasp of a kidney

prognosis precedes diagnoses:

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At the meeting no one ratted.

The pains is gone. The pain are gone.

THE PAIN ARGON

Can we move in for a close up of the anti-climax here? Just a little closer.

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Add endum: shit, man, I forgot about the fourth guy in the room, the one they wouldn’t feed and who they feared was spreading something airborne that might put us in quarantine who, Gospod Canonović, who, under the conductorship of Mister Mislimović combined with Mr. Govorović to render an extraordinary midnight concert I woke up to just as it finished, the first, and perhaps last, performance of Gospod Mislimović and his A Capella Night-time all-Nephro Trio!

UZBEKISTAN LETTERS: PUTIN PRANKS TRUMP

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Funny Guys, Report from the Inner Circles of the Moscow/Tashkent Axis

Uzbekistan Letters: Putin Pranks Trump

It came as no surprise when Shavkat Mirziyoyev ‘was named’ successor to Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, and, in fact, in the few months since his succession there have been few surprises. His first foreign visit was more in the nature of a weekend trip—to Vladimir Putin’s dacha outside Moscow—than an actual state visit, and in the meantime he has been slowly resuscitating his friends who fell afoul of the favors of Karimov, though not to worry, experts predict that the prison population will be steadied once his grip on power is thoroughly secured and he feels comfortable imprisoning his own enemies and competitors.

What did come as a surprise was not that his first state visit was again to Moscow, but rather the timing of it, as he and Mr. Putin behaved like old drinking buddies, drinking (reportedly) liter after liter of vodka as the last days of the United States presidential election wound down and on November 8 the great event took place, Donald J. Trump becoming the president-elect of the ‘leader of the free world’, as the two leaders repeatedly referred to the post, giggling all the while.

Though Mr. Mirziyoyev speaks more than passable Engish, his choice of co-chief foreign advisor, the successful travel minister, Arslan Levantinov, suggests an acute interest in affairs West, and it was Mr. Levantinov who was present during the congratulatory phone call Mr. Trump received from Mr. Putin. The following account is nearly word for word, as recalled from a phone call I received from my friend Arslan the very same night, after the two dignitaries finally passed out.

So it went more or less like this. Putin calls Tump, Shavkat, like a little kid jerking on a leash keeps pulling at Putin’s sleeve, ‘Let me talk to him, let me talk to him…’ until, just as the call makes it through, Putin says, fuck it, and gives Mirziyoyev the phone.

SM: Mr. Trump.

DT: Wonderful. Big, thank you, Vladimir, Mr. Putin.

SM: So you recognize me—my…my voice, sir. Mr. President, if it is not too early to refer to your highness as such.

DT: I hear you loud and clear. You know my vodka—yes, president. You know my vodka, you told me—

SM: Yes, we are all drinking to your victory, sir. We are drinking vodka.

DT: That’s—We are, Mar—We, my kids and their—all of us here. We raise a glass to you as well, Mr. Putin. You know how much you have meant to us all.

SM: Yes, yes, we know that we are to look forward on a new epoxy [whispers), epoch of relations between not only our countries as such, as such, we—Donald?

DT: Yes, Vladimir.

SM: Still there?

DT: Yes, I am here, and let me tell you it is big, big here, a big thing—

SM: About the new epoch

DT: We certainly have.

SM: First thing, Donald—I believe first name basis is best, as such…

DT: Vladimir.

SM: Donald, warming relations, as such, you are aware that out best ally to the, what direction…Same direction for you and me as well, Donald. First thing, and please do not linger over false reports. Donald, I would like you to give special—

DT: I’m sorry, Vladimir, hard to…yes honey, tell them I’m on the phone—

SM: all due respect as such I know you are on the phone as it is to me on the phone you are with, Mr—

DT: …talking to Ivanka and her mother. Sorry, yes, Vladimir—

SM: It is I who am sorry, as we here are so happy it is perhaps too much vodka as such that has been consumed.

DT: Well, Vladimir, then I would like to thank you for the call. We will do big things together—

SM: I’m not done, Donald. I was speaking of our ally to the south, east, or you know down and away. The gallant, as such, the reputable nation, our number one ally as of, Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan Donald. Can you remember that?

DT: Write this down, kid. How do you spell that, Vladimir?

DT,SM: U-Z-B-E-K-I-S-T-A-N.

DT: Like Koranistan. Right.

SM: Kor—Yes, as such, the same only with different beginning ending in stan. Donald?

DT: Vlad?

SM: Much trade between our–your countries is possible. Big trade. Wonderful. Huge things.

DT: That’s my—

SM: Democrats of your good country have mixed us, I mean Uz–you know, our friends, Uzbekistan, with a different stan, probably Turkmenistan or your Koranistan. Bad things have been said and some restrictions of trade as such have been—

DT: I am the boss now, Vladimir. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.

‘So by now Vladimir Putin is purple with laughter, suppressed laughter and just in time he slaps the phone away from Mr. Mirziyoyev so Donald Trump does not hear him blurt out with a sort of affecting triumphant humor: I pissed my pants, Shavvy!’

Letter to Arslan of Uzbekistan

 

 

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Dear Arslan,

 

Well you’re certainly in a pickle, aren’t you? Of course I will respect your wishes to refrain from publishing your missive…your massive missive, if I may. But some of it will be…elicitable from this response, of course. And you’re right, the day filled with its minutefull hours is quite long, especially given the ticking seconds of those old fashioned clocks that clutter the whorehouses of Tashkent as well as, apparently, your government offices, while history moves like a hurricane. In this case Hurricane Islam. How could you be prepared? Good question, yet you are prepared. By a series of accidents, sure, but prepared nonetheless. And please do not use the word extraction again, for that is from the movies, and I have no such powers. I am what you rapidly figured me to be—a relative nobody with a particular interest in your country and in you. I have no special powers but to reach virtually every country in the world with the good news of the thriving sex industry in your country. In the last week, word has reached, aside from the usual US, Canada, and Slovenia, Indonesia, Sweden, Chile, Venezuela (yes, finally some inroads in the lower half of that hemisphere!), India, UK, Australia, Poland, Uzbekistan of course (sorry my statistics don’t have breakdown by region or city), United Arab Emirates, Switzerland!, Nigeria, Bahrain, Italy, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Finland, Saudi, France, Norway, South Korea, Oman, Greece, Croatia, Tunisia, Vietnam, Somalia!, that mysterious European Union(?) (probably Luxembourg—rich, corrupt, and horny—moyen indeed ladies!), Kuwait, Spain—All in one week, Arslan. Do you think they visit my page for my comments on dictators? Only you my friend, only you. They are grasping at…forget the metaphor. They come for the sex that you and yours provide. They don’t give a rat’s anal about boiling: take any burger of the Lux and tell him she’s yours for 200 shekels but tomorrow she boils and you’ve got yourself a deal.

Your position, I mean to say, is unassailable. No shake up is going to shake you up. No, Karimov’s touch was no golden wand, but the golden wands of the tourists are indeed tapping your noggin. Your position is secure. And I will do whatever I can to secure it, write whoever, open my books: you will see, Arlsan, there is no doubt: they come for the sex. Yes, a very few come for the literature, particularly the Vietnamese, bless their memories and intransigence. But the rest come for you and your Open City, your ten thousand Uzbeki Anna Magnanis.

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So don’t fear. As for the rest, THE question. No Hague for Karimov, but as you imply, what sort of Hague, what sort of lonely cells, without Kissinger, Bush, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Bolton (I’m actually not sure what he is guilty of besides that moustache), Wolfowitz, Powell, Clinton, Cheney, Cheney and Cheney, Obama, and…you get the idea. You got the idea. And besides, had it turned out differently, were this another world (silly flash: Condi Karimov!), they would have mocked him in the game room even though he could beat them all at chess, and even though he would have been able to teach them bridge. Or not. Tall order. Cheney maybe, but a born cheater. Powell? None too bright. Clinton? Yes. But you need a fourth. Obama. Wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut. Kissinger? Couldn’t teach him war and he’d throw the cards first time he lost at uno. Yes, the world would be better off if only…And we may still hope, though my friends ridicule me for my unflagging (entendre double) attempts to get Henry on a plane for the lowlands. But the Boiler is now in a better place, and let us leave it at that, shall we?

All my love and support, dear Arslan (Levantinov! Long die the ich!),

Your friend in bad times and good if they arrive,

Rick

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I like this photo because to me it depicts his slow fall…