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There is something about looking from the narrow, winding, single lane road, and seeing a valley probably a mile deep, covered with old growth decidious forest that stretches as far as the eye can see. It is like nothing I have ever seen or imagined. I love this place.

I am in a paradise, and I am about to embark on a ten day trek in the Himalaya. I am excited and scared. I am sure that everything will be absolutely perfect, but I am also afraid that I will be too cold, or that something else will go wrong. And I am afraid of the horrible plane flight home.

But I am also without worry. I am in paradise, everything is wonderful, and I am going to create some amazing works as a result. I miss my family, and I miss you all. Will be home in two weeks, for the biggest culture shock ever.

Please allow me to tell an interesting self-fiction:

This morning I woke up to discover a pink elephant lying on my tummy.

No, wait. Scratch that – it’s too fictional.

This morning I woke up with one hell of headache, some might say a hangover (much better). I rolled out of bed, muttered the title of God with a distinctive –y, and made my way to the bathroom in haphazard fashion, the whole time struggling to recall everything I had to do today.

Lordy

I did my morning tinkle, scratched my rear, and made my way over to the bathroom window, a long, bedroom-type window, not at all like the one you’d expect, those bathroom windows that are high on the wall and fog-glassed. Nope, this is a regular old window. So I pulled open the plastic blinds and looked outside. Down below a group of neighborhood kids were riding around on their bikes.

They looked up.

I looked down.
...and realized I hadn’t pulled my PJs up after peeing.

PANIC NOTE: In some states they organize legal lynch mobs for exposing yourself to children.

Now what I did next I’ll never understand – instead of pulling my PJs up, I grabbed the string operating the blinds and released its locking mechanism, allowing them to fall with guillotine speed, or more like geldotine speed, because it landed right on my penis!

Ladies, if your self-defense instructor hasn’t told you already, the male genitalia is an extremely sensitive area of the body, capable of profound levels of both pleasure and pain.

So instead of covering my nudity from the children, I put on a show worthy of DeSade’s imagination, hammering my penis with the blinds and falling back in agony. And I swear I heard the little buggers laughing hysterically.

So that was my morning. Self-fictionally anyway.

The sad fact is that there was no exposure, or pseudo-castration for that matter. I wasn’t even hung-over. I just woke up like you all did, made my way to the bathroom, peed, brushed my teeth, took a shower, combed, shaved, scrubbed, rinsed, patted, plucked, deodorized, and then looked in the mirror and wondered why every day had to be so everyday.

NOTE TO SELF: Dear Mr. Mitty, next time make your life interesting by imagining Tera Patrick knocking on your door, instead of random acts of self-mutilation.

I'm typing naked because She was here again last night. In fact, She's still here. She's sleeping on my bed right now, just as naked as I am. I've been teaching Her Tantra. She's been responding really well. The other day, she had her first internal orgasm ever. I really like Her, and what's worse is that I like Her more the more time I spend with Her. The only problem is that She's pretty much only interested in sex and friendship.

I left my last relationship because that's all it was. Sex and casual friendship. It was great for a while, but I needed something more. That's why I started persuing Her. Goddammit. Last night She came to see me when a friend of mine was here. She stayed just long enough for small talk and then left, I suppose because She knew She wasn't going to be getting any booty. She came back down later. We fooled around for a while, and then we fell asleep. We woke up, fooled around some more, and now I'm typing and She's back asleep.

I'm trying to help her unlock some repressed memories through her sacred spot. That is probably one of the most intimate things you can do with someone; I daresay maybe even more intimate than most types of sex. Why is She letting me get this close to her if all She wants is to be friends? Goddammit.

I was browsing through the writeups under Particle Man, and came up with this little number:

Hippy Man
Hippy man, hippy man
Lives his life in a caravan
Eats his food out an old tin can
Hit on the head with an old beer can
Havin' flashbacks to Vietnam
Hippy man

The latest installment of Irregular Zymurgy - batch number 02-4

Late April is the time when a young man's fancy turns to running about in the heath with nought between himself and nature but a plaid skirt, and maybe blue paint.

I had intended to buy a few feet of plastic tubing and do some maintenance on my kegging equipment this afternoon. But when I looked around the brewing supply store, I realized how much I'd rather brew something other than the wheat ale I already had provisioned. Scanning the shelves, I noticed a jar of peat-smoked malted barley and knew that the time had come for me to brew a Scotch Ale.

    At home, I set to boil
  • 3 gal of filtered water
    and made a tea of
  • 1 lb crystal 60L malt,
  • ½ lb munich malt, and
  • ½ lb peat-smoked malt (all were crushed grains).
    I accidentally burnt the strainer-bag of grain on the bottom of the pot, so I had some pouring of the hot tea into other pots, scrubbing, and pouring to do at this point. Not much of the bag burnt, so I continued after helping myself to a beer in order to calm my fears and brought the tea back to a boil. Then I added
  • 7½ lbs british light malt extract
    to the tea, stirring to make sure it dissolved. After the pot came to boil again,
  • 2 oz Cascade hops
    were added; 30 minutes later
  • 1 oz Fuggles hops
    went into the pot; 15 minutes after that, I sprinkled
  • 1 tsp irish moss,
    which is a clarifying agent, into the pot.
    All told, the wort was boiled for 60 minutes. For fragrance, I added
  • 1 oz Saaz hops and (another)
  • 1 oz Fuggles hops,
    and let them steep in the hot wort for 15 minutes. After that, the hops were strained out and the wort was poured over ice. Later I decanted the wort into a carboy and pitched in Wyeast strain #1728 "Scottish Ale". Then I invoked a blessing over the beer, and set it in the corner to ferment.

Now I am left with the makings for the batch of wheat ale I've procrastinated.

It was a mildly sunny Saturday in Silicon Valley. I, enjoying the nearly abandoned streets of a downtown. I walk looking, absorbing what the city landscape has to share, up at the tall buildings, down at the blackest of pavements, side to side at the exquisite, secured lobbies. Block after block, street after street, past blue windowed hotels, benches with arm rests in the center so the homeless cannot sleep on them, small city parks nestled between corporate headquarters.

As I approach an intersection, my eyes catch a glimpse of two teenage boys walking in my direction on the opposite block. Arms flailing to illustrate a point impressive only to themselves, they walk hunched forward in the manner that exudes laziness and fast food summer jobs. This is a manner I dispise, I remind myself. I cross the street at my brisk but restrained pace, still looking inquisitively at the city surroundings. An inadvertant glance ahead lets me know that one of the duo is sporting a used black bowling shirt, used white name patch included; the kind of shirt obtained from a second hand store catering to teens who need unique clothes to stand out and fit in. They are still engrossed in whatever tale they are relating when they spot me approaching. The voices fall, the arm movements cease. The thought that needs no expression, "look who's coming", snaps into their appearance as quickly as their former selves fade.

I can feel the snide comment coming. feel it. I focus my eyes ahead and shift my stride to pass them by on the left, but can't help but issue a few self-annoyed but non-confrontational side glances. I'm not by nature self conscious, and would like to think I've risen above the level of placing importance on how society sees me, not to mention feeling more intellectually advanced than these two. However, I have to admit to myself that I'm curious to see what they've come up with, what word or phrase they will use to attempt to defile me in a moment's time. They wait until just after our shoulders pass each others to unleash their comment:

"Android."

Android.

The corners of my mouth rise and my lips part slightly as I smile my little android smile.
Aforetime

This daylog is part of a series of four detailing my recent holiday. The preceding two were accidentally posted with 'don't display' checked, but should nevertheless be read first. Start Thou Here.

Today, we planned to visit Verdun, site of a terrible battle in 1916-17. We set off at leisurely pace up the valley of the Meuse from our hotel at Sedan. On the way, we decided to visit a medieval church at Avioth, in the hills close to the Belgian border. On the way there, we passed through a little town called Mouzon, not far from where we'd started, where, as we turned a corner in the winding main street, we discovered a huge abbey church with a pair of steepled west towers. I did my best to photograph this, but the height of the spires and the narrowness of the street made it practically impossible. The inside of the church was equally impressive, with a baldachino over the altar which, despite its classical design, matched the gothic surroundings very well. Apsidal chapels let on to an ambulatory aisle, and there was a requiem chapel (which we couldn't get access to) on an upper level, leading off a second ambulatory.

Avioth church was somewhat less well-kept than Mouzon, but fascinating nonetheless. Avioth is high up in the hills of the eastern Ardennes, about a thousand feet above sea level, and it was cold and wet when we arrived. We rushed into the church to get out of the weather, and so we didn't really look at the external architecture until later. Inside, there were a number of remarkable things to see. The church was originally established as a shrine to Notre Dame d'Avioth, as represented by the medieval statue of that name, which sat on a stone reliquary or sacrament house to the left of the altar. (There was also a better sacrament house on the right-hand side of the altar, presumably still used to hold the consecrated bread.) According to the Michelin Green Guide, the statue of Notre Dame d'Avioth is made of lime and dates from the middle ages. What I saw didn't appear to fit that description. I may simply be a lousy judge of statuary, but I'd guess that the chipped-looking effigy I was looking at was a 19th-century replica in lacquered wood. Judgement on this point was not helped by the tasteless modern dress adorning the statue. My own guess is that the original is housed inside the left-hand sacrament house. This would require it to be about half the height of the one displayed, and it would thus be able to sit on the empty stone throne about a span and a half wide which is fixed to the screen beside the present statue's seat. Many marble plaques surround the reliquary, thanking Our Lady of Avioth for various miracles. A set of polychrome saints look down from plinths at the clerestory level, and traces of wall-painting can be seen in many places. Just in front of the painted wooden pulpit stands an Ecce Homo in which Jesus is dressed as he usually is in such depictions - loincloth and crown of thorns - but Pontius Pilate appears clothed as a high-ranking courtier of the Holy Roman Empire. This piece is a reminder that at one time, Avioth and much of the surrounding area were not in France, but part of the Spanish, later Austrian, Netherlands.

Another such reminder could be seen at our next port of call, the fortified town of Montmédy, just south of Avioth on the way to Verdun, which was originally defended by the Spanish. The fortifications were later reinforced by the great French engineer Vauban, and (as in many of the towns he worked on) there's a little café there called 'le Vauban'. We had lunch there, and looked into the church. The church and many of the houses in the fortified section of the town, were not in a good state of repair, but the church was full of artists, sketching various views of the interior. As there were still heavy showers at this point, we declined to walk around the ramparts, but instead pressed on to Verdun at last.

Verdun is in the upper valley of the Meuse, and as our previous two stops had not been, we found ourselves descending rapidly as we crossed the battlefield which lies to the north of the town. We passed, but did not investigate, the sites of several villages obliterated by the fighting of 1916 and never rebuilt. All around the city there were signs to the graveyards of the French, German and American soliders who died in over a year of combat. Verdun is in many ways to the French as the Somme is to the British: the major killing-field of the First World War. (I know there are still others.) Hundreds of thousands of men died in a few square miles of now-tranquil countryside. The speed of the advances made by each army was heartbreakingly slow. In a few minutes, we drove through territory that had taken the German forces weeks to capture, and French forces a year to liberate. The town itself was never captured, although the German army came very close to it in the summer of 1916, and almost cut it off. The only access was by a road to the south-west that came to be known as the Voie Sacrée - the Sacred Way. Whereas British cities ruined during the Second World War, such as Coventry, have been mainly rebuilt in a modern style, Verdun (and other places in France heavily shelled in one or both world wars) has been reconstructed in a style pretty much as it would have been previously.

The exception to this is the cathedral, which actually regressed in style. The shelling revealed a Romanesque crypt and south door, closed up after a great fire in the eighteenth century, when a lot of the present classical ornamentation was put in. The crypt has been rebuilt with central columns whose capitals depict, amongst other things, scenes and objects from the Great War. Also in the cathedral was a display about the life of St Theresa of Lisieux, about whom I previously knew virtually nothing. Since the previous day I had been wondering who was depicted in church statues, very popular in the region, showing a brown-robed nun holding a cross and a garland of white flowers. The display indicated that it was intended to be this saint, also known as St Theresa of the Child Jesus. What was strange to me was that although there are perfectly good photographs of her, none of the statues I had seen - including the one at Verdun itself - looked anything like her.

After the cathedral, we briefly visited the archbishop's palace, which now houses a public library and a centre for world peace. Then we moved on to the underground citadel, home to an exhibition about the defence of the city during the war. As at Reims the day before, the tour was by means of an electric 'gondola' car. The light and sound shows were spectacular, with an eerie 3-D effect in the (acted) movies depicting characters from the war. The whole place was heartbreaking, and I found myself wondering why anyone fights wars. Outside in the open air again, we noticed a plaque on the wall of the citadel marking the site of the city's Gestapo office. A little way beyond, a wall was plastered with Jean-Marie le Pen posters proclaiming 'France for the French!'

Back to the hotel, up the Meuse valley. On the way, we passed a lovely, if slightly delapidated, church in the style more characteristic of the Rhine valley, and stopped for a panoramic view over the alluvial plain of the middle valley of the Meuse. Then we returned to our hotel for the last dinner of the holiday, which, dispiritingly, was the same menu as the previous night.
Henceforth

So, we're off.

Inevitably, we got off to a late start; a late night (of course) packing up and making last minute decisions on what to take, what to leave, when to send what to who ... It was kind of a mess, and kind of just what I figured would happen.

I woke a little later than I thought I would, stumbled downstairs to try to fix my email "issues" (why it decided to pick the night before I leave to completely b0rk itself is beyond me). Kelly made her way down a few minutes later, and we sat in silence pecking away at Powerbooks until Chris comes down, looks out the window, and sees a small army of people come to see us off. They all get invited in and the once quiet house is turned into a sea of chattering as Chris and I stumble around trying to get going at some semblance of our planned departure time.

A ton of last minute advice is given:

  • "This Tiger Balm will help a lot with sore muscles, bruises, stuff like that"
  • "Don't sleep in washes. They may look inviting, but a storm that you never hear could send a flash flood down into your campsite."
  • "This will give you some time to really think; something like this is how I got over my first really bad breakup."
  • "Learn to silence the little voice in your head. Then you'll really begin to enjoy the trip."
... And a lot more just like that, most of which I should have written down at the time.

As we finally got on the bikes, the crowd launched into "Row Your Boat" (sometimes "Ride your bike"), hugs were passed around, last minute goodbyes given...It was great. Thanks to all that showed up.

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