Monday, September 27, 2004

hit the new post link and now i'm staring

at the screen, not panicked or disturbed but mystified. What was it that I wanted to say to a mixed bag of cyberean readers? Oh hey... why not talk about today's shoot in downtown Amsterdam? The show's producer reads my site, and I will warn her now that what I'm about to say will make her cry, smack her head on her monitor and cry out "Why me, Oh Yahweh, Oh Wolfen, why?" and so forth. Okay then.

At twelve sharp we leave an interview with a meteorologist at his office just outside Utrecht and head into Amsterdam. By the time we veer off the A1 into the drempelled heart of the city I realize that I've left my city map in my hotel room. Whatever, I say, and instruct my camera guy to turn left, right, wherever, until something familiar appears. This sounds horribly haphazard, but I've been doing this job for a few years now and have found that it's actually a really effective way to hack into the middle of an unknown, crowded, dog-shit strewn city. By one o'clock we're at the Central Station, mere blocks away from the address and with half an hour to spare. A five minute walk. I've even got a map for the city centre and can use it to navigate reliably.

We get horribly, horribly lost. Like all major cities, Amsterdam is full of snaky one-ways and deadends and promising streets that end in a harbour all of a sudden. We circle around the street we want until 1:20, when suddenly Sint Blahblahstraat pops up on our right. We turn down the road, nearly squashing a dozen tatooed bicyclists in the process, and find it easily: the Klompenboer, the only maker of wooden shoes by hand in the city. But parking is another story. If you've ever tried parking in downtown Amsterdam, you'll get a sense of our pain, but if you try it on the only day of a public transit strike you will double up and wail in agony.

Repeatedly we make the wide circle - Klompenboer; stadium; bridge; Nieuwmarkt; Klompenboer - without success. Eventually we find a loading zone and I run to the address. But on first look, it doesn't seem to be a shoe factory. It's a crowded toy store full of stuffed animals. Whatever, I'll go in and ask for the guy. I walk in and see that one wall of the store is actually a wide set of stairs and a blocked-off escalator leading into a bunker-like basement. I can see at the bottom of the stairs a lone guy chopping at a block of wood with a curious-looking hatchet. Around him in the fluorescent lights lie piles of wood shavings and wooden shoes. The shoe 'factory' is actually an abandoned part of the subway once intended to shelter people from nuclear assault. It's one of those spectacular tricks of architectural layering that you find in cities like Amsterdam, London or Sydney. It's really cool, kind of desolate, even cinematic - but it ain't kids' show material. The salesgirl calls the shoemaker up. He turns out to be a very friendly guy, shaven-headed and wiry, with a pair of wooden shoes painted to imitate blue-on-white Delft ceramic. He even helps us find a parking spot.

Unfortunately, he's not quite as helpful when it comes to the shoot itself. His English is not as good as I had hoped, and his answers tend to be brief and dismissive of detail. Did he make all the shoes on the wall behind him? No - those are from a factory. Do you use all those great machines? No. Do you paint the shoes as well as make them? No - his mother does the painting. Will his mother be in today? No - she never comes in on Monday. Can we get some kids down here to watch you make shoes? No - he has to organize a group. There's a group coming in tomorrow, as a matter of fact. But not today. This is turning out to be the kind of shoot that we joke about but cannot imagine really happening. Between shots he drinks beer and smokes American Spirits.

On to the demonstration of his work. He hacks a block of wood into the shape of a shoe with unbelievable speed and skill. Then he places the shoe on a workhorse and starts shaving it down with a razor-sharp foot-long blade hooked into the horse on one end. After that he clamps it and gouges out the interior. Great, we say - what next? Now we dry it. How long does that take? A week. Well, what do you do to it after that? I sand it. Can you sand this? No, it's not dry. Can you fake it? No, there's no point. Can you do it for the show? No, there's no need for that.

After a bit of this he says that he rides a unicycle, so we film him outside riding his unicycle around. The few people we approach on the street to interview about wooden shoes wisely decided that they can't speak English. We jump back into our car and head into a rush-hour traffic jam. To ease our pain we drive past Utrecht, past our hotel, onward into a weird little city called Soest, one of those ass-end cities of Europe that no tourist ever visits. We find a restaurant called Der Droom Grill Room, which looks shabby and slightly frightening, but it turns out to be the most incredible Turkish food I've ever had. Viva la Soest.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

an offer

Hello. Would you care for a dike? I've been travelling through the Netherlands, polder by polder, discreetly squirreling away dikes in my jacket. I've sewn some sizeable pockets inside my jacket to house my new possessions. Serviceable used dikes, reasonable rates. Kilometres of protection. Grassy. Sheep here and there. Tomorrow I'm driving out to the Delta Project gates at the mouth of the Oosterschelde, so if anyone wants some giant hydraulic pistons or hearty beachgoing Germans,* please let me know and I'll take a deceptively small-looking briefcase along.

*I've now been in the Netherlands long enough to begin to distinguish Dutch citizens from German tourists. It's frightfully easy; simply look for the jovial guy tromping along a beach in a Speedo and fleece top. Sure, it's 4 degrees Centigrade. Of course he knows that the wind's propelling needles of rain into his exposed flesh. That don't stop him. As a matter of fact, he's about to break into a jog. The Frischairfienden prowl the streets of Vlissingen and take in the delightgul sea breezes miserable cold drizzle. They flop along atop the dikes of Duiveland in diving suits and flippers. Windmills churn the driving air, seawater leaks from gates into the Nordsee, German tourists in space-age parkas scour the beach for Freshness and Health. One day they will find it buried beneath the sands.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

dutch dictionary

I've picked up quite a few little-known Dutch words over my week here in Holland. Here are a couple:

Drempels, n. A drempel is a kind of Dutch pastry about six feet in length and weighing seven hundred pounds. Villages in Tholen and Duiveland gather in the town square every full moon to mix a dough made of wheat flour and sawdust and lumber from downed windmills. They lay out the dough on a flat sheet and heap up a pile of unfinished croquettes, squares of mature cheese and probably a few pickled onions. The pastry is then rolled up, boiled in an iron cauldron overnight and then baked in a giant wicker man that towers over the medieval churches and gives burghomasters unquiet dreams. After three days the villagers remove the pastry from its grisly oven and, because of its density and inedibility, lay it across a highway to serve as a speed bump. Eventually it is paved or bricked over.

Overflakken, v. Whether you grow up in Ouwekerk or Utrecht, if you're a Dutch teenager you eventually participate in this kooky adolescent ritual. For one year you must pocket a single square of mature cheese from each meal. At the end of the year, on a moonless October night, in the shelter of a polder, you meet up with your friends. From the year's worth of mature cheese you build a gigantic cheese man that towers over the medieval churches and gives the klompen makers restless fantasies of wealth and power. You must spend the night under the mature cheese giant. If in the morning your cheese man is host to murders of cawing crows, you and your friends may steal a car and get stoned in an Amsterdam coffee shop.

te koop, coll. In order "te koop" with the immense pressure of pronouncing the Dutch language properly, many citizens will abandon their homes in the dark of night and disappear forever, leaving behind a sign in the window that states "te koop". People will pay large sums of money to move into these abandoned homes.

Those definitions are only really funny if you know Dutch, and probably not even then.


I just spent a costly hour in a hotel in Vlissingen writing a carefully edited post on whiteness and privilege and my complicated feelings about being a white guy who doesn't quite look white. But this goddamn computer took it away from me, and now I am owed ten Euros and one pretty fine piece of writing. I'm dispirited and disgusted. No, I'm just fucking angry. Everything on the road when you're travelling outside North America or inside South Dakota is pure hassle and nickle-and-dimery, an endless string of gas station attendants, phone operators and concierges smiling helplessly and saying Sorry in any one of six different languages. Arggggh.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

it's hard to blog an entry

when your entry blog is fogged
and your soggy noggin's putty
and your blogging throat's got frogs: yes:

it's hard to blog an entry
when the entryway's all fogged
from a fifteen hour plane flight
through ten thousand klicks of fog

and the signs in Dutch are nutty
and the roads are black as night
from all the rain that bogs the traffic

and it's really congested on the A10 at rush hour. the end of that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

glamour and goodbye

In a few hours I'm off for six weeks to Europe, poking around the various corners of the Union for old disasters. Maybe I'll be partying with Eurotrash. Maybe I'll be scanning the roadside for the next exit out of Utrecht. Who knows? Here's something suitable for The Lotus to remember me by between today and Halloween:

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls, to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"The breath goes now," and some say, "No:"

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refin'd,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begun.

As I'm no poet, I had to ask John Donne to supply appropriate verse for my sentiments. Really. I had to travel backward in time to find him, accost him on his way to the pulpit, and persuade him to throw this poem together. When I got back to 2004 I found out that the poem had become a classic! Mind you, I must have done something wrong, because on my return I also found out that the present had gone from the Art Deco paradise I left to a totalitarian bloodbath, with colonial wars and genocide marking off the first half of the twentieth century, and the degradation of the entire world via the military-industrial complex that arose from a confluence of WWII-era interests shaping the second half. It appears that we now live on a kind of prison planet packed with the wretched, led by deluded tyrants who send people off to die in Mesopotamia in the hopes of pleasing invisible supermen in the sky. I must have altered the course of my lineage as well; it appears I'm now partly Irish and largely bald. Freaky stuff, that time travel. From now on I'm not going to go back in time to pester any more famous authors.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

downhome badness: revelation

I've been lax lately. Remiss. Unupdatery. That last word may be more noun than adjective, but you get the picture. I haven't updated or written anything of length over the last few days.

I thought I was depressed. That I was experiencing a crisis. That my brief period at home between trips was impelling an emotional withdrawal and an episode of introversion. Why, given the minute amount of time I've been given for myself and The Lotus, should I spend energy on unseen readers? I thought I was weathering blogger block, or worse, full-on blog burnout.

It turns out that none of those things were the case. My problems amounted to a sentence that wouldn't leave my head, no matter how hard I tried to dislodge it. I realized that until I committed to the sentence, released it from my mind and let it tumble on down the internet, none of the other sentences that had been building up behind it over the last week would ever get written down. This is the offending sentence:

My favourite moment in the first Resident Evil movie occurs when Milla Jovovich kicks a dog in the head.

So you can see why I didn't want to commit that sentence to posterity. Nonetheless, it's all true. I saw the movie a few years ago, in a moment of Tuesday evening indecision. I didn't have great hopes for the hour and a half that I was going to spend in the theatre, but some small voice in my ear always insists that I watch zombie films, no matter how certain I am that the film will be a piece of shit.

And Resident Evil was no exception to the shitty-zombie movie rule. Like the rest of Paul Anderson's output, the film threw glossy sci-fi horror and old skool gore together and let the sharp shiny surfaces duke it out with the messy insides. The result was a stupid unexplained mess with all the coherence of a five year old's nightmare, but one shining moment remained: when Milla Jovovich leaps into the air, pivots off a wall, and in rapturous slo-mo, boots a leaping zombie dog right in the head. In mid-air. Wow. It was such a sublimely stupid moment that I wanted to applaud. It was like the kid who brings in a dead squirrel for show and tell; how can you not appreciate the spirit of clueless generosity behind the impulse to show us something so inappropriate? Surely any film that spent so much care and money on a scene so stupid would produce similar moments in its sequel.


Not one scene, line or moment in Resident Evil 2 is entertaining or executed with any competence. Actors stumble over monosyllabic lines, props appear and disappear from characters' hands without explanation, expensive scenes with helicopters and spotlights pop up and vanish without adding anything to the movie beyond helicopters and spotlights. And despite the apearance of zombie dogs in a zombie-haunted elementary school, nobody kicks them in the head. Instead, they introduce a gas range to a cigarette and blow the dogs to bits. Who cares about incinerated zombie dogs? If you're not going to kick them in the head, don't bring them to the set.

In a review that must have produced a sticky damp-armpit feeling of shame, Dave Kehr of The New York Times seems to believe the following about the movie:

Mr. Anderson's screenplay provides a steady series of inventive action situations, and the director, Alexander Witt, makes the most of them. A longtime second-unit director, Mr. Witt ... proves himself more than equal to the task of guiding an entire production. His work is fast, funny, smart and highly satisfying in terms of visceral impact.

It is, of course, all in the timing, and Mr. Witt's is extremely good. He knows just when to lay in a lull and just when to puncture it with a shock effect, when to move in on character drama and when to step back for large-scale mayhem. His is the kind of first-class craftsmanly work that never wins awards or even much attention, but has long been the lifeblood of the movies.

Forget Jayson Blair or Judith Miller's fabulations on weapons of mass destruction: the real bullshit at the New York Times is being ladled out in the movie reviews. Here's Alexander Witt's idea of a well-executed action scene:

Night. Everything is blue. The main characters walk around in an open space where no zombies roam. When lame dialogue stretches actors' limited range, magically insert zombie next to them. Then, on the principle that allows multiple clowns to emerge from tiny cars, insert a hoard of zombies. Where did they come from? Who cares? They're zombies! Then, because the choreographer walked off the set a week ago, film the ensuing fight in a herky-jerky nine frames per second. A 9 fps fight scene wears the triple crown: it makes everything look really "fast" and "tense"; it saves on film stock; and best of all, the director doesn't have to put in the hard work of actually staging a decent action sequence. Just in case, though, make sure no cuts last longer than three quarters of a second. And if all that fails, put Milla Jovovich on a motorcycle and have her drive through a stained-glass window for no reason whatsoever. Nobody will notice that we've squeezed millions of dollars into a second-rate B-movie, where everything is dim and backlit, where actors wear the glazed look of children reciting lines at a school Christmas play, and the whole thing takes place in a city with only one bridge out of town.

I'm glad that I got that sentence out. I feel much better now.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

business centre

Today I'm in a business centre, where everybody does their business, leaving all their business all over the room in loose files. Outside the business centre all the businessmen and women gather and stand in loose lines and rub their shoulders. The old-school types smoke cigarettes and crane their necks for ashtray stands. Where did all the ashtrays go? Some stamp their feet impatiently because they have business to do, and god knows they're not getting paid to stand around in lines like this, getting tired, getting cramped, losing valuable minutes while the ever-accelerating business world pulses outside the hotel, like an invisible network of freeways cast across the planet. No way. Gotta keep their edge, gotta keep their bellies fed and their coats groomed, gotta trim the unnecessary body hairs before the conference. Gotta visit the fitness centre. Gotta get a good night's sleep. Gotta straighten the files because they're full of business.

Friday, September 10, 2004

the end of glamour

Once I travelled across the world to talk with experts and survivors of ancient disasters. Now, today, I'm driving to Swift Current to interview an equine therapist, which is, unless I'm mistaken, a horse masseuse. The next day we keep going to Medicine Hat, where I interview an eccentric millionaire about a giant tipi.

Maybe I should do the entire trip wearing a tuxedo. That'll lend a frisson of jet-set classiness to the whole affair.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Once more I can post on my weblog! I promised in my last entry to retract all the nasty things I said about Reagan's death and the free market. Well, forget it. I retract my retraction in a spirited counterpalinode. The only downside to Reagan's death was that the pomp and timing only bolstered the Republican cause. That's Ronald Reagan for you: a withered old cabbage patch doll of such insurmountable bastardry that even by his death he damages the discourse. May Satan's urine trickle down for all eternity on his Brylcreem'd helmet of hair.

Okay, I feel much better now. May I add that I also do not regret putting up a picture featuring my wife's face, despite the risk of stalkers, home invaders, telemarketers, etc.

While Blogger was being crotchety I wrote an account of the death of my pet rabbit Gordon on my dormant Diaryland site. You can find it here. My wife wrote about Gordon as well here. Feel free to give them a read. Have a piece of memory of our pet.


Can I post now? Can I, sweet Blogger, after all these days of facing connection time-outs and bland "There were errors" messages every time I tried to post, post now? Give me a clear sign. Like letting me post this request, if nothing else. I'm sorry for the glee I took in Reagan's death, and putting my wife's face on the internet, and bashing the free market. In the spirit of my name, I take it all back. I retract it all. Just let me post.

Friday, September 03, 2004

palinode plus lotus equals good

Click on the picture and it will grow. See The Lotus' eyelids! Check out my Adam's apple! Do it now.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

clearing up some rumours

Lately I've been hearing a number of rumours that have been making the rounds (since that's what rumours do), and I'm certain that 90% of all these rumours are false. Palpably, demonstrably false. I won't name names as you know who you are, and if you don't know who you are please ask me and I'll tell you. Anyway the source of these rumours should be very clear to those who have heard them because they all concern scrap metal dealers. Really now. For shame. Let me tell you, contrary to what some have been bruiting about, the truth about scrap metal dealers. Scrap metal dealers do not bedizen darkest Africa with priz'd ornament. They do not emerge at dusk on rooftops, there to glide on canvas wings over the twilit city in search of fireflies. They do not drink in the cool breezes of the gloaming. Theirs it is not to do such things. No, that is not theirs. Nor, having snagged a whole rutch of lightnin bugs, do scrap metal dealers retreat to lairs in ocean caves to scribble in margins of codices, lit by aforementioned bright captured bugs. Why would they do such a thing? Nor did the one who moved into the bungalow down the street have sex with Brian's wife Janice. He's gay. Janice is just trying to get back at Brian for refusing to build a new shed in the backyard, so she's come up with this ridiculous story about an affair between herself and the gay scrap metal dealer, and it's so pathetic. If you ask me Brian pretty much left the marriage behind years ago, and Janice just needs to drop a few pounds and stop being such a pushy bitch. So I just hope everything's clear now.

q and a

I've been working out some answers to questions that people pepper me with on the job. For some reason, people seem to think that it's okay to approach a complete stranger and jack information from me about my life, the contents of my luggage, the weight and cost of our equipment, what have you. I realize that what I do is perceived as part of the Fame Machine, and therefore I have no more expectation of privacy than a hapless celebrity wandering down a Main Street in some Midwestern town, but it's still odd and sometimes incredibly irritating to deal with a passerby calling out: Hey, what's in your suitcase? It's a bit like walking into an office and saying So... what you got in your desk? How much does that file cabinet cost? And so on. Here are some responses I give out to the most commonly offered questions and conversational gambits.

  • Q: Hey, what's in your suitcase?

  • A: Some guy who owes me money.
    This is a great all-purpose response in most parts of the world, usually eliciting a laugh from the curious. In the Florida Keys, though, people will take you seriously.

  • Q: What are you filming?

  • A: Well, this is kind of embarassing, really, because we've been making a documentary on you for the last ten years, and you've finally noticed us.

  • Q: What kind of film stock do you use for that camera?

  • A: The fuck you care, buddy?
    That's not the answer I give, but man, do I ever get tired of people staring like mules at a Betacam and asking about film stock.

  • Q: How much does that camera cost?

  • A: Around forty thousand dollars.
    Even though it's not wise to announce to strangers that you're carrying the price of a sports car on your shoulder, it's too much fun to see their eyes defocus and their mouths try to chew out a response to that.

  • Q: Are you news reporters?

  • A: Yes, the event we're covering happened fifty years ago and we just heard about it in Canada. We're hot on its trail.

  • Q: Are you making a student film?

  • A: Yes, we're making a student documentary about student disasters for student networks all over the student world. The students hired us because they're so busy studying.

  • Q: You must have enough Air Miles to go anywhere in the world, hey?

  • A: We fly on a special magic rock. Sometimes crew members fall off and the company pretends that they've quit and gone partying in Thailand.

  • Q: You must find your work very interesting.

  • A: Could you phrase that as a question? I'm trying to maintain a format.

  • Q: Don't you find your work interesting?

  • A: Oh yes, very interesting, thank you, thank you, it's fascinating, and rewarding too, you wouldn't believe the rewards, and all the people I meet, yes I meet all kinds of interesting people, and oh the things I see and the places I go, feel free to live vicariously through me for thirty seconds, and yes it's hard because I miss my wife, and no we don't have any children, but yes there'll be quite a homecoming ha ha, she'll be so sore when I get through with her, oh yes, oh I can see I got a bit carried away there and you're not smiling anymore and we're still setting up, oh damn.

There's another Georgie deep inside

I've been experiencing Jimi Hendrix issues lately with doppelgangers. I haven't seen any, but they're constantly being intimated to me. Why? Maybe I invite the strange intimacy that allows my shadowed Other to glide close to my life. To tell you the truth, I'm growing my very own doppelganger out of handy household materials. An empty can of turpentine, some rags, a pelt (important), spare bicycle parts (except for brakes, because I'm a no-brakes kind of guy). The empty can functions as my head, the rags and pelt as my torso, and various bits of bike as my lower body. Communication will be limited to whatever is printed on the can, so expect lots of talk about proper ventilation and new standards of professionalism in turpentine manufacture. Conversation available in French and English. The use of wheels instead of feet and the lack of brakes will make my doppelganger dangerously fast on downward slopes, so exercise due caution on walks. The rags and pelt will suffice. Sadly my doppelganger has no arms. When you're living under my roof you've got to earn your arms.

Right, that bit was a lie to entertain you for a brief moment while I puzzled out a way to talk about doppelgangers - not actual physical doubles, but the doubling of one's life that occurs with a road job. Papers report with the glee the scandal of the travelling businessman who leads two sealed-off lives, with separate families and houses and even names. People read the stories with a sense of wonder or perhaps envy; how can a man split his identity into various characters and then keep them contained? But the trick is not to create and maintain different identities when you're on the road; the trick is to keep your identity stable. As soon as the plane begins to taxi down the runway I forget the intervening weeks at home. I feel as if my home were another stop, a layover on the way to the next interview. Likewise, as soon as I walk into my apartment I forget that I've been away. My work is so strange and disjointed, so full of abrupt relationships and switches in scenery, that it resembles a powerful dream, so consuming that I forget my life and so vivid that I remember the dream in its entirety when I wake up next to The Lotus in our bed.

Consequently there are two of me: one who phones from overseas, the other who sits in the living room. I can't shake the creepy feeling that I'm going to pick up the phone one day and hear myself on the other end. Or maybe I'll be scanning the heiroglyphs at an airport terminal and I'll spot myself at the Customs booth. If that ever happens, I'll go grab myself and we'll spend the day playing practical jokes on airport security. Those security people, they're all about the laughter.