Tuesday, September 1, 2015

They Have a Different Word for Everything

And just like that, I have no idea what is going on. Austrians may be impossible to understand, but at least I can read their signs. But the Slovaks? They use our same alphabet, but have decided on a whole different way of organizing the letters. As a result, C and I found ourselves in Bratislava, hungry, sitting down for a lunch of . . . braided cheese? A little research after the fact suggests we decided on a bar for lunch with a menu of “snacks to eat with beer.” I assume it is the equivalent of traveling to New Jersey, deciding you feel peckish, and walking into an old-man-bar to order a nice bowl of beer nuts for what is often in Europe the largest meal of the day. But it was not a complete loss. The bar had a large screen TV playing a video survey of the most important women in pop music today, so I was totally brought up to speed on . . . twerking? Or was that last year? Maybe I'm not as up to speed as I'd hoped. I suppose the subtle flavors of braided cheese distracted me from the many global cultural lessons being televised to a room empty but for C and I.

Bratislava was certainly a step further east than Vienna. Like pretty much anywhere listed in a guide book, the town came replete with old buildings, cobbled streets, and postcard vendors. But here we for the first time intersected the web of global backpacking routes, finding ourselves at the Tourist Information office with someone shouldering a didgeridoo and someone else traveling the world with juggling pins strapped to his Deuter, perhaps how I would have packed for a trip some 30 years ago. We were all scratching our heads, trying to get a lay on what there was to do in the border regions of Slovakia.

In our case we opted to visit the Eastern European Center for Photography. Who would have thought we would have to travel to Slovakia to be introduced to the work of the Korean Dancing Photographer? Sometimes I think I have an understanding of and appreciation for what it means to be art. Then I run across something like the Dancing Photographer and have to throw all preconceptions out of the window: the defenestration of understanding.

“I work in contradictions. For example, I named this piece 'The Skinny Pig.' Pigs are not skinny. They are fat. So it should have been called 'The Fat Pig.' But I did not call it 'The Fat Pig.' I called it 'The Skinny Pig.'”

And therein lies the art.

We are heading next to the Czech Republic, where I am told they have found yet a third way to organize and derive meaning from the letters in the Roman alphabet. I am also told the Czechs know a thing or two about beer. So here is to hoping that we learn how to read “cheese” and “beer snack” on any menu we are handed.

(C looking dubious about lunch.  She has the braided cheese.  I've got blue cheese in a jar of pickled onions.)

(Bratislava street.)

(We needed to mail post cards.  So was this place a post office or a bank?  We weren't sure up until the moment that the clerk put stamps on and hand cancelled our mail.)

(Bratislava church.)

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